Alumni Spotlight: Kai Gottschalk (’22) talks winning international UAV competition, building drones, and filming school events


Aayush Gupta

Gottschalk holds the second place trophy won by Amador UAVs at the international AUVSI competition.


Kai Gottschalk (‘22) handles the controls allowing a drone to fly high above the football field, capturing the marching band’s final run of the rehearsal. He makes sure it stays steady while the band plays, and smiles in satisfaction as the soloists’ microphones make the perfect balance between themselves and the full band. After the end of the run, Gottschalk brings the drone down and makes a mental note to edit the footage and release it to the band soon. 

Four years ago, he never would have imagined he would be filming for the band with his own  drones. 

Ever since he was a kid, Gottschalk had loved technology. In eighth grade at Harvest Park Middle School, he worked on  the behind the scenes technology and equipment in the media class. 

“I’ve always been interested in building things. I had this really, really bad drone a long time ago, and I played with it until it fell apart,” said Gottschalk

Towards the end of his first semester of freshman year, an Amador UAVs club representative approached Gottschalk and his friends, asking if they’d be interested in joining a drone club. 

“I was like ‘hmm, this is pretty cool,’ [and] it was kind of funny, [because] my entire friend group was like ‘oh this is cool,’ so we all joined the club at the same time, and the rest is history,” said Gottschalk

While his friends and him invested more of their time into the club, there was still a hurdle for Amador UAVs to jump: building machines. They first attempted to build a plane, but it crashed immediately. Afterwards, the club found their niche after experimenting with kit drones and discovering the autopilot software community. 

“We started playing with drones and bigger drones and bigger drones, and that’s what we built our experience out of,” said Gottschalk. “In the end it’s just been quite a crazy ride.” 

The UAVs club has soared far since Gottschalk first joined. Amador UAVs won second place internationally at the UAVSI competition in Maryland as one of only  four high school teams present, which was a direct result of the thousands of hours of the team’s own research and learning as well as iterating all the different designs. Even when the designs failed, the team would pick themselves up and try again, because  

“There’s no better feeling than to see the thing that you built finally working,” smiled Gottschalk

I’ve always been interested in building things. I had this really, really bad drone a long time ago, and I played with it until it fell apart. [Then] we started playing with drones and bigger drones and bigger drones, and that’s what we built our experience out of.

— Kai Gottschalk

In his senior year, Gottschalk worked with Amador’s student leadership to try some new things for the school rallies. He managed various technological equipment like the microphone and sound system. He noticed how many speakers the band and leadership programs had and wanted to give some of his ideas a try. For him, each of the rallies enriched his experience and improved his technological skills. As the school year progressed, the rallies became better and better as Gottschalk learned to integrate more experience into his work.

Surprisingly, even as someone who loves robotics and behind-the-scenes work, Gottschalk has never taken video production, journalism, or even engineering classes during his time at Amador. Instead, he spent much of his time outside of school pursuing his interests on his own and then bringing his self-honed skills to contribute to the school, from running Amador UAVs to helping with rallies to filming drone footage of the Amador marching band. 

“[I wanted to] give things a try and see how it goes and [find ways to make it better] for future events. During the Aloha Rally, [most of everything] worked, but there were things we learned that we [applied] to all future events,” said Gottschalk

Although Gottschalk himself didn’t have any working drones to use to capture aerial footage of Amador’s marching band practice and competition show runs, he was still able to get the videos through his friend, who would fly his own drone while Gottschalk was marching. Later, Gottschalk would format and edit the footage to post on his Youtube channel, which now has over 230 subscribers

One of Gottschalk’s fondest high school memories is filming the 2022 Amador Lip Dub, an event held  once every four years. Having worked on the Harvest Park Lip Dub in eighth  grade as a camera operator, filming the lip dub again as a senior ended Gottschalk’s high school filming experience in a full circle. The stakes were high, with only two attempts to get a final product and nearly 3000 students to film in a day.

“[The Lip Dub] was such a crazy day. It was physically [and] mentally draining on every level, but it was so much fun and definitely a highlight of [high school],” said Gottschalk

The main thing Gottschalk is going to miss about Amador is the diverse groups of people he’s met just on the campus alone. By high school, everyone is more self aware and developing their own passions and values, which leads to everyone going through their own separate paths in life. 

“[Everyone’s different passions] sort of pulled [and motivated] me through my high school years and made me eager to do all these crazy things like UAVs and the rallies,” said Gottschalk

When it comes to his own path, Gottschalk isn’t sure what the future holds for him, but he has some ideas. He will be attending Cal Poly SLO this fall and will major in electrical engineering. 

In the future, he sees himself working at big name companies like NEP, which sends out broadcast trucks to major sporting events like the Super Bowl to film them for national television. The trucks are full of all the cameras, lenses, drones, and general equipment for behind the scenes work, which would allow Gottschalk to incorporate all of his passions and past knowledge. 

“I love all of sound engineering. I love general electrical stuff, trying not to electrocute myself on custom circuits and whatnot, making custom boards, [you name it],” laughed Gottschalk.