I always tell people that you have no idea of what the North American Eagle really is until you see it in person. I say this because the first time that I saw it, my jaw dropped. It’s a sight that has few comparisons, and brings out the child in everyone. It’s a reminder of those dreams of our youth, floating in space, or piloting a fighter jet. But the story doesn’t begin when I first saw the Eagle, it started long before that.
After having transferred to a new Junior High, in an attempt to get me to socialize with people at this new school, my parents encouraged me to join the Lego Robotics team. At the time, I was less than fond of the idea. It was not exactly what I would have considered interesting to start, as it ended up being a lot of work to even get going. (It’s incredible for me to see how far that same lego robotics program has developed over the last few years, you can take a look at https://chowmiller.wordpress.com). However, with a little bribery (my parents bought me my own Lego Mindstorms kit), I was convinced to stay for a while longer. While I won’t argue the results, I will say that it was a bit of a rocky start.
By the time I hit my freshman year of High School, I was already head developer for our FRC team (FIRST Robotics Challenge, far larger than the lego robots introduced in Middle School), and enjoying the challenge that it gave me, though that is another story. What is important about this is my first meeting with Keith Zanghi (Director of Ops for the Eagle). At the time, he led the Robotics team for another school in our District. However, they focused so much on building a good robot, that software was left to the wayside. And much to my chagrin, it was left that way until about 20 minutes before the competition began.
With Keith’s team sweating the clock, looking less and less likely for them to make their first match, someone suggests to Keith, “Hey, go grab that kid from over there. He can help us.” Needless to say, I was that kid. So they brought me over, and I was able to get the robot coded in about 10 minutes, with just enough time for them to make their first match. Keith was certainly impressed by this, and as I turned to head back to my own team, he stopped me and asked if I might be interested in working on a “special” project. I was definitely intrigued, though he left out a few details. Perhaps the most important of them being that his “special project” was a 56 foot long red jet car that breathed fire from the back end.
The first time seeing the car in person was unlike anything else. My jaw absolutely dropped, as it was a testament to the power of technology. Of course the first time for anyone seeing the car, there was the requisite grand tour around the car, which included starring down the belly of the beast (the engine). After getting a run down of most of the vehicle, I got a chance to talk with a lot of the guys on the project, one of them being the Driver, Ed Shadle. Having heard about my coding work in robotics from Keith, he asked me what I thought of their website. It was at that point that I turned to him and told him that “it could use some work”. Although if you were to ask him, I said that “it sucked”. That was the day that I was hooked with the project, and never looked back.