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Robert Bordeaux: Builder, Programmer, Pilot, and More


Sophomore Robert Bordeaux usually has a birds-eye view on the action, witnessed through the screen of his iPad. His drones have captured a variety of events, including Priory’s Field Day last year and off-campus happenings. Most recently, he spent time in Forest Park, filming the Flags of Valor installation on Art Hill for America’s Heartland Remembers. We caught up with Robert before class started one morning, and learned that Robert does way more than just fly drones.

BordeauxRobert really likes to build. “When I was little, my uncle gave me a toy car that was bare bones. It didn’t have a battery or a remote. I went online and looked up different components to complete it, and thought, ‘I’d like to build one of these from scratch.’” Little did his parents, Trish and Dean, know that this was only the beginning. They have since given up a corner of their basement for Robert’s workshop, where he likes to tinker almost every day. Robert described his work area: “My basement has a ton of stuff everywhere. It’s full of screws, wires, solder, half-built things, rotors…I like to keep things so they’re right there, ready to grab.” He talked about how one of his most important tools is shrink wrap. “You have to cover all your bullet connectors. They’re completely metal, and you have to cover all contact points in plastic so if it touches the metal of your frame it doesn’t fry your electronics.” He smiled wryly, “Which I learned the hard way. There’s a lot of little things you learn from experience when you’re building.”

Since that first car, he’s gained a lot of experience. He has built more cars and a remote-control airplane from scratch (including cutting Styrofoam for the wings), constructed a helicopter, and cobbled together parts from broken RC toys to make complete, functioning units. Last summer, he and a friend built a computer from scratch. “It was fun, seeing it boot up for the first time,” he said. “I can do school work on it, and play games.”

He had so much fun with his remote control airplanes, that it seemed natural to move into drones. Not content to purchase a kit online, Robert carefully researched every component for his first drone. “It took six months, because all my parts came from China. It would take me two to three months to learn that someone was lost in shipping, then I’d have to re-order. The time it took to wait for parts was the main drawback.” His drone was entirely custom built and programmed, based off hours of research and then good, old-fashioned fiddling around. “I taught myself how to program it, and then just pressed buttons until it worked.” He has built three drones, including a tiny, hand-held drone. For professional aerial photography, he flies a DJI Phantom 3, which he highly recommends due to the gimbal-mounted, high-quality camera, which isn’t affected by the drone’s vibrations.

He flies his airplanes at Buder Park, but the drones are more versatile. “I like flying for fun, and can do that in my backyard with a drone. I can even take off from the carrying case if it’s muddy or grassy. I just make sure I’m not in a no-fly zone.” He’s also built drone flying into a personal business, offering aerial photography through

He’s a registered pilot, and his registration number is on the inside of every drone, “so in case you crash, you can be identified.” He mentioned that new laws are going into effect that state drone pilots who sell footage must be licensed commercial pilots who have completed a course. He is, of course, studying for that test now.

His parents have been completely supportive of his efforts. In addition to the workshop set-up, they told all their friends about Robert’s aerial photography business. Trish’s cousin is involved with Flags of Valor, and he reached out to the organizer. Robert met with him to discuss shot possibilities and a production schedule. He then worked in conjunction with the event organizers and documentary filmmakers from Red Line Productions to capture the installation at sunrise and sunset, with visitors and without, through aerial still shots and videos. He donated his time, and the use of his equipment, to help tell the story of the incredible display of thousands of flags representing the brave men and women who have died while fighting the War on Terror. He’s looking forward to the release of the documentary in a few months, in which his footage will be featured along with credit for his work.

Other interesting places he’s filmed include his family’s lake house in Wisconsin, where he had fun flying right off the water but had to land after a couple of moments due to high winds coming off the lake. He’s filmed kids inner tubing behind a jet ski at his grandparent’s lake house in St. Clare. Last year’s footage from Field Day is currently in use by Mrs. Raley’s video production class. “It’s cool to see things from the drone’s perspective,” he said.

BordeauxHe offers great advice for anyone looking to get into building and flying drones. First: do your research. His experience has proven that inexpensive parts from China don’t always work the best. Make sure you have all your parts when you begin, and that you know exactly how to program it and that you have everything you need to program. “There are converters and cables that no one tells you to buy. I had to figure out, ‘How do I plug these things together?’ So I ended up soldering parts together rather than waiting three to four months for the component I needed to ship.” There are a wide variety of drones available, so think about how you’ll use it before you purchase. Are you carrying a big, heavy payload like a camera, or do you want a micro-drone for tricks around the house? You can pick up a drone to do tricks in your backyard for a hundred dollars, but if you want quality photos and video you’ll spend more to get a solid drone with a gimbal. Always check return policies, in case the drone you ordered isn’t exactly what you expected.

Robert is always busy. School takes up a lot of his time, and he aims to get his homework done each evening by 10:30 or 11 so he can spend an hour or so in his workshop. His favorite class is web application development. “I love the business aspect of things, and hope I can learn to launch my own company. I’d like to be more self-reliant than what I’m doing right now with aerial photography. I want to launch a product that sells itself, which people will come to me to buy, versus having to go out to film.” He is running cross country during this fall term, and is already looking forward to getting involved with volunteer opportunities next summer. He’s thinking about working at Children’s Hospital or with Aim High here on campus. And of course, he’d like to go in to technology as a career. “I love to break something down to the point where I can build it again, or turn it in to something else. I like understanding how parts work so they can be used in other applications. I once hijacked the board from my brother’s broken quadcopter – the motor didn’t work – and put it on my broken helicopter. I was able to fly the helicopter again, with the remote from a different toy.”

He gives credit for his success to his parents. “They’re really supportive. They help me and they leave a lot up to me to figure out on my own, which I like. And they’re not constantly yelling at me to hurry up and get out of the basement!” He also recognizes the role his teachers have played. “They all bring something different, so it’s hard to pick just one. Mr. Niemann has always been nice, teaching me web application development and showing me how to grow my company, sharing resources when I was trying to build my website, things like that.”

And with that, the bell rang and Robert was off to another class.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


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Saint Louis Priory School

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