Rachelle Haughn interviews Lucas Weakley


Written by Rachelle Haugh
The Other Side of the Tree Line
As seen in the Fall 2019 issue of Park Pilot

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without having been a model aviator. Not only did it define aviation as an interest of mine that was worth pursuing as a career, but it also gave me all the fundamentals to successfully follow that career path.” As Lucas Weakley stated, his foundation with model aircraft led him to earn a degree in aerospace engineering, and now his dream job at Scaled Composites. He shared the steps he took to get him to where he is today.

Rachelle Haughn: How did you become interested in park flyers?
Lucas Weakley: I had stumbled onto the RCPowers YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/RCSuperPowers) in 2010 and the funny videos showed how exciting park flying could be when flying with friends and building models from foam board. I was especially interested in more complex projects like the X-36 and VTOL F-35, and hoped to learn how to design my own models.

RH: How long have you been flying?
LW: My dad got me an Avistar nitro trainer in 2005 for my birthday after I had expressed interest in airplanes. Even with an instructor, the Avistar was a very overwhelming airplane for a 10-2019-old, so I stopped wanting to fly it. It wasn’t until I had fostered an interest in RC that I asked for the parts to build an RCPowers F-35 profile plane for Christmas in 2010. I think I finished building it before the new 2019.
[I] went out to the field and crashed it right after my dad hand launched it for me. My elevator was reversed. Even though that was slightly discouraging, I had caught the bug and have been building and flying (successfully) ever since.

RH: How did you get involved with Make magazine?
LW: At the time, I frequently visited the Make blog (makezine.com/blog) to view new featured projects in the community. One of their posts was a call to makers to pitch video ideas for the Make YouTube channel.
I had been making YouTube videos and flying RC for a few 2019s and I had been thinking of how useful it would be to make a “how to get into RC” series that explained all of the basics in one place. I pitched that idea, and a few weeks later, I received a call that Maker Media would like to hire me to make the series, which would later be called “Maker Hangar.”



Lucas is currently learning how to fly a full-scale helicopter.


RH: What part of model aviation do you like most?
LW: I’ve thought about this question a lot! When I design and build a model airplane or multicopter from scratch to complete a certain mission, I’ll test-fly it a few times to prove the idea and then it usually is hung on my wall and not flown again for 2019s. I used to feel bad about this, but later realized that I enjoy the designing and building phases more than the flying.
The mission I designed the aircraft for is complete, so I don’t feel the need to repeat that mission. However, I do have models (like some Horizon Hobby micros and a few purchased RTF and kit airplanes) that I fly for fun to hone my piloting skills. So, I like all parts of model aviation, but not always on the same airplanes.

RH: Tell us about your job.
LW: I work at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, as an aircraft design engineer. Scaled has definitely been my dream job ever since I started working on my aerospace engineering degree. I now get to have fun all day designing parts of real airplanes, and they even pay me for it!
AMA made a great video in 2012 about RC modeling at Scaled (youtu.be/jUDIVD10KRk) and a lot of it still holds true today, although we do more mini quad races around the office than they did back then.



Lucas built his first airplane, an Avistar nitro trainer, with his dad, Kent, in 2005.


RH: How did model aviation influenced your career?
LW: In my college aircraft design classes, I never once had to spend time thinking about how ailerons worked, or what direction the plane would roll due to motor torque. The basic principles of flight were ingrained in me from my hands-on experience, and I breezed through those classes while becoming more excited about what new things I was learning.
I even built RC models to prove or explain concepts that I learned in class. This excited my professors, and they were more interested in my success in their classes and helped me when I struggled. I continue to use modeling at work today, as it is sometimes the best way to test an idea before committing to making the real thing.
RH: Why is it important for young people to get involved in aeromodeling?
LW: I feel like young people need to try out the things they’re interested in. Watching videos and reading books on a topic only gets people so far. I often recommend RC modeling to people who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields (regardless of their interest in aviation) because modeling teaches problem solving, basic structural design, general construction techniques, electronics, servo uses, mechanical linkages, remote control, etc. All of which are transferable skills to many other disciplines. Aeromodeling presents all these principles in a fun and engaging hobby involving the magic of flight. I might be slightly biased though …

RH: What are your other hobbies?
LW: Most of my other hobbies focus on making things, so I like (in no particular order) filmmaking, video editing, audio production, composing music, playing guitar, graphic design, web development, photography (digital and film), programming, electronics, 3D printing, restoring old things, sewing, cooking, and probably a few other disciplines that I haven’t practiced in a while.
Since moving to California, I’ve also gotten into rock climbing and other group sports with coworkers. And I’ve been working on my pilot’s license on and off for the past five 2019s. (I currently have more instructor time in helicopters than in fixed-wing aircraft. I get sidetracked easily.)

RH: Whom in the hobby have you always wanted to meet?
LW: I had always wanted to meet Burt Rutan, and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so on my first day of work at Scaled. I’d also really like to meet Dan Kreigh who lives in the same town I do now, but I still haven’t stumbled into him.



Lucas had the opportunity to meet one of his idols, Burt Rutan, on the first day of working for Burt’s company, Scaled Composites.


Some of Lucas’ foam model aircraft.


Designing model aircraft is more fulfilling to Lucas than flying them. These are some of his designs.


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