When John Evan Flatt graduated from Portland High School in 2013, all who knew him knew his future was looking bright. With a Purdue University scholarship under his belt, he headed for the world of aeronautical engineering technology. Flatt’s passion for his line of study began with building model airplanes and rebuilding truck and car engines. He was around 8 years old when he began carving out his future in aviation.
Now a senior at Purdue, the doors of opportunity continue to open for Flatt. His model airplane experience has led him all the way to flying drones.
“Once I got to Purdue, their drone studies had started to take off — so I got involved,” Flatt said.
His work in the sky has him traveling out of the country for the ScaleX campaign, in which he will be assisting a professor.
“I’m going to Germany two weeks from today,” he explained. “I’ll be flying a drone there. It’s part of a campaign for the school where I’ll be doing a bunch of atmospheric science testing. Most of what I’ll be doing is gas concentrations of various altitudes. We will be using a few techniques and figuring out the most reliable way to get the measurements.”
The campaign seeks to research various questions and to increase the understanding of energy and matter fluxes from site to regional scale. As one might guess, flying a drone isn’t for the faint of heart.
“It can be kind of nerve-wrecking sometimes because we fly $60,000 cameras. You’ve got to be on your game. I’m prepared to take over and fly and to land safely. We do the take off and landings manually,” he explained.
Aside from his Germany/Bavaria trip coming up, Flatt is keeping his focus on ARPA-E, which is through the Department of Energy.
“I work on a project called TERRA,” he said. “We use phenomobiles and do phenotyping to collect date on different crops. We see how they’re adapting to the environment.”
ARPA-E projects have the potential to drastically improve U.S. economic prosperity, national security and environmental well-being. TERRA teams work with agriculture and a variety of energy sorghum — which is a crop used to produce biofuel. It is believed that improved biofuel crops could lead to increased production of domestic biofuels, while reducing the dependence of foreign sources of transportation fuels. Overall, advanced crop breeding techniques could have significant economical benefits.
In addition to his upcoming travels and his TERRA project, he earned his private pilot license a few weeks ago.
As Flatt prepares for graduation, it appears that the sky is the limit — both literally and metaphorically.
“When I was a kid, I never really thought flying a drone was possible for me. Now, I’m thinking about getting my Masters, but haven’t decided yet.”