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May 09, 2023
By Liann Zimmer

Aviators NEXT: Maximus Chen

Community | Future-Forward

Welcome to Aviators NEXT, a look at the next generation of pilots and aviation professionals who have received scholarships or sponsorships with Universal Avionics. Maximus Chen is an Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Arizona in Tucson and is currently working as an Avionics Systems Integration intern with Universal Avionics. 

Universal Avionics was proud to sponsor Maximus and his team for the University of Arizona Design Day. In this post, Max shares his progress and story.


Bring us up to date with your progress at the University of Arizona?

I am about to finish my fourth year as an Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Arizona. I’m in the final semester of my bachelor’s degree and a part of the Accelerated Master's Program (AMP) which means I’ve been taking graduate-level courses in my senior year to get a head start on a master’s degree. I’ll be in graduate school at the University of Arizona next semester for my master’s with a concentration in either Dynamics and Controls and or Solid Mechanics, depending on my topic of research. 

I’m also involved in a few clubs on campus, most notably as the President of the Wildcat Rocket Engineering Club, or WREC as we call ourselves. We started as a small group of students that wanted to get more experience with rocketry early on since most of the classes you take in the first few years of the degree program are aircraft focused. The final part of my college journey I’ll mention is Senior Design. I’m honored to be the team lead for Project SAIL, working to integrate technologies together that can hopefully save lives and make the world safer.

The University of Arizona student team for Project SAIL. Pictured left to right: Yash Vardhan Singh, Max Chen, Maanyaa Kapur, Alton Zhang, and Katelyn Hackworth.

Tell me about the Engineering Design Day and your sponsored project?

Design Day is the culmination of two semesters of work that goes into senior design projects. All engineering majors present their team’s project to judges, fellow students, and the public at the university student union in booths that describe the project and results with posters, videos, prototypes, and optional live demonstrations. The event is also a competition with over $40,000 in awards given out to competing students. Every team works with their advisor to nominate themselves for up to 5 awards and then goes through several rounds of interviews with the judges on Design Day to determine winners. It’s an all-day event for us, with setup starting around 6:30 am and the final awards ceremony ending at 5 pm. 

As part of the AMP, my team’s senior design project works slightly differently than most since we’re taking the graduate level of the class. Instead of having a sponsor company assign a project to us, we chose from a series of prompts to create a mission statement and requirements around for ourselves. Our prompt was applications of terrestrial sailplanes and high-altitude balloon systems, a topic that piggybacks off past research into using sailplane drones dropped from orbit to explore Mars done at the University. 

The goal of the Support Aerial Incendiary Locator project is to build a paraglider drone for thermally monitoring wildfires semi-autonomously with high endurance.

Our project, the Support Aerial Incendiary Locator or SAIL, is a high-endurance Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that uses a thermal camera to track wildfires and aid in search and rescue by relaying video back to a portable ground station. This system is envisioned for potential use by first responders in the field to survey wildfires and aid in search and rescue operations in locating survivors. Since the FAA restricts UAS to flying below 400ft AGL, we can’t test our sailplane concept at the desired altitude directly. Instead, we’ll test our payload, autopilot, and telemetry systems by dropping them at 60,000 ft (about 18.29 km) from a weather balloon. We’re working on a semi-autonomous paraglider drone that will house these systems and safely glide them down from the drop altitude. The footage gathered will then be presented at Design Day to demonstrate the performance of our integrated systems, along with analysis correlating the paraglider’s flight data to our conceptual sailplane design.


How did you become familiar with Universal Avionics?

My first-time hearing about Universal Avionics was the night before a career fair I was preparing for. I had missed the Engineering career fair I wanted to attend the day prior due to schoolwork and was researching the companies that would still be there the next day. Universal stood out to me because they were local to Tucson and were in the aviation industry, but I really didn’t know anything about what working in Avionics meant. I spent a solid amount of time the day of the fair slogging through mundane conversations with recruiters that didn’t go anywhere, at the time I had little professional experience and wasn’t eligible for the AMP yet, before I got to the Universal Avionics booth.

I could immediately tell that Universal had a different culture than any company I had spoken to before because talking with recruiters there felt more like a friendly two-way conversation rather than an interrogation or a waste of their time. They loved hearing about what I did in my clubs and projects, and it just so happened that the position they were looking to fill was for the ASI (Avionics Systems Integration) team where my experiences were applicable.

Maximus Chen works as an Avionics Systems Integration intern at Universal Avionics in Tucson, Arizona.

What attracted you to aviation as a career?

I’ve wanted a career in aviation since I was a kid. I got hooked on it as a child because of my family, my dad has a degree in Aerospace Engineering and used to work for various companies in the industry, and my grandfather had a lengthy career in Aerospace propulsion as well working for GE and KLM. They never intended it, but I was so in love with planes that I got taken to the doctor when I was little because I would only make airplane and rocket sounds rather than speak.


Tell us about your current job role at Universal Avionics?

I work on the Avionics Systems Integration team which in my bosses' own words means I get to do a little bit of everything. Stealing from my resume here, I describe the team’s roles as “integrating UASC components into customer flight systems, performs product testing and troubleshooting, identifying manufacturing issues, and exploring the feasibility of technical business proposals.”

We work out of the ASI lab in Tucson and some of the things I’ve done include designing wiring harnesses to connect equipment to InSight displays, helping to update equipment manuals, shadowing the harmonization of ClearVision systems, writing test procedures, and participating in Universal training.

"I really enjoyed working with ClearVision. It’s cutting-edge augmented reality technology with great functionality that makes it unforgettable to experience it in person."

What excites you the most about our technology, or working with our company?

There are opportunities to work in a lot of different subjects with an endless supply of new and old technology. I really enjoyed working with ClearVision. It’s cutting-edge augmented reality technology with great functionality that makes it unforgettable to experience it in person. On the other side, a lot of great avionics equipment that’s still perfectly good was made long before I was born, and I get to interact with the history of these ingenious revolutions in avionics and help give them modern interfaces.

What are your life ambitions beyond career (family? travel?)

Once I’m done with college, I’d like to spend some time traveling to spend time with friends and family I haven’t gotten to see as much while I’m studying. I know my girlfriend and I want to go on some road trips, visit Japan, and spend more time together outside of school since we’re both in the Aerospace AMP.

In his (limited) free time balancing school, work, and projects, Max has enjoyed traveling to Portugal for its amazing sea cliffs and historic architecture.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I haven’t had too much free time recently, but in general I like working out, watching movies and shows, do CAD and 3D printing, and some video games.

What's the most interesting place you've traveled to?

In terms of locations, my most recent trip was to Portugal with my family, we stayed in the town of Carvoeiro on the Algarve coast, Coimbra, and the capitol Lisbon where we saw some amazing sea cliffs, historic buildings, and learned a lot of history. On theme though, one of the other coolest places I’ve been recently is the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia where I got to see a lot of aircraft I had always wanted to, including my second space shuttle and the Concord.

"I was so in love with planes that I got taken to the doctor when I was little because I would only make airplane and rocket sounds rather than speak."

What’s on your Spotify playlist?

I’m a bit of a music hoarder so my playlist is probably a couple thousand songs long at this point but iamjakehill, Des Rocs, NEFFEX, Imagine Dragons, Faceless 1-7, Daft Punk, and NF are some of my frequent artists.

What’s your favorite aircraft?

I think this is as close to picking a favorite child as I’m ever going to get, but I’ll go with the A-12 Oxcart for being the underrated predecessor to the SR-71 Blackbird.

What's on your bucket list?

I want to become a pilot at some point in my career and if it’s a possibility by the time I’m old, go to space.

Maximus stands under the Discovery space shuttle at the Udvar-Hazy center in Virginia, growing his passion for aerospace.


Your top three dinner guests, dead or alive?

"Kelly” Johnson, Mark Hamill, and by popular request, Pedro Pascal.

Anything else to add?

On behalf of me and my teammates working on Project SAIL, I want to give a big thanks to the marketing team at Universal Avionics Tucson for sponsoring and supporting us!


Stay tuned for part 2 of the blog series where Max and his team share more about the SAIL project and their road to victory in the University of Arizona Design Day competition


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