ALUMNI: Engineering the future, one drone at a time

PHOTO: Davis High alumnus Brian Johnstone built a missile for his senior design project at Oregon State University.

By Connor Tang, Staff–

By the end of his senior year in college, Brian Johnstone had already built a 15.5 foot tall, two-stage, high-altitude missile that could travel as high as 100,000 feet in the air.

Johnstone graduated from Oregon State University in 2019 with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in mathematics. During his last year at OSU, he underwent a demanding senior design project involving the entirety of the engineering process: designing, building and testing.

This process was no small feat. Johnstone and his team spent countless hours crafting aerodynamic designs, simulating flight paths, and optimizing their efficiency for each and every ounce of material on their missile. 

In order to undertake the daunting task, Johnstone took on the role of team lead. After long stints of trial and error, Johnstone and his team created a missile that was launched in an empty New Mexican field. Unfortunately, his missile exploded mid-flight due to faulty parts.

Johnstone attributes much of his success as a leader to his great teachers at Davis High.

“What defines a great teacher and an average teacher? Great teachers will make you think and work, but will make you get there. They teach you how to teach, how to lead and empower others,” Johnstone said.

Before Johnstone’s graduation from DHS in 2015, he interned for a UC Davis senior development engineer. There, he had hands-on experience with systems and focused on engineering from a physical perspective.

Johnstone immediately fell in love with engineering because, “at the end of the day, your job is problem-solving, both with people and situations from a collaborative point of view.” 

Brian Johnstone’s younger brother, Mason Johnstone, noticed Brian’s interest in problem-solving. “[He] tries to see both sides of an argument before making a judgment or even an opinion.”

Teamwork-based problem-solving is precisely Johnstone’s work now. Having recently been hired for a managerial engineer role at General Atomics, Johnstone is looking forward to working with drones.

Whether it be drones for the military or drones for humanitarian aid, Johnstone believes that drones have the potential to shape the future of how people live. 

Drones can increase standards of living for rural communities by delivering necessities without the risks of sending in a person “[because it is too] dirty, or dangerous, or just easier or cheaper to send in a drone to do it,” according to Johnstone. 

All of these ideas and values have led to one goal for Johnstone.

“Make an impact on someone else. Not everyone can change the world in one day, or in a life, but you can change the world of each person a little bit by thinking about other people and seeing how you can help them,” Johnstone said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *