Aerospace student puts people in motion to support veterans

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — What started as a high school class project for Robert Veltre III has grown into an annual event that will soon fill the streets of Pittsburgh.

The Penn State aerospace engineering major is the founder and race director of the Brave American Classic 5K and 10K, which benefits the Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness. This year's race will be held on Saturday, March 4.

Since 2012, Veltre, who manages a team of three dozen volunteers on race day, has helped raise more than $200,000 for the organization that helps veterans recover from physical and psychological wounds.

“If you raise money for certain funds, you feel like it just goes into a black hole,” the Schreyer Honors College Scholar said. “Not that it's not doing good work, but it’s good to have a personal connection with this.”

Roughly 130 runners participated in the first event, and that number increased to 300, then 400. Veltre’s father, Robert Jr. (a member of Boulder Crest’s board of directors), has handled much of the sponsorship and his mother, Delia, the logistics. His younger sister, Gia, has also been a big part of the effort, coordinating volunteers and silk-screening T-shirts to identify the veterans in the race.

Although he can’t devote as much time as he did in high school, Veltre remains heavily committed to the project, including a grassroots awareness effort that includes distributing flyers.

“People think you just go on Facebook and you immediately get a gazillion followers,” he said. “That’s not how it works.”

Veltre, who ran cross-country and track at Quaker Valley High School, has changed the course layout as the race has grown to accommodate more runners. He likes the opportunity endurance sports give him to push himself, and his course of study provides opportunities to push himself, too.

He’s had a passion for aircraft design since he was 6 years old, and at Penn State he has applied that passion to the Zephyrus Human Powered Aircraft Project and the Penn State Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence. He was able to get some early hands-on experience and expand his skill set during AERSP 404H, a flight vehicle design and fabrication class.

“It sort of combines the whole endurance sport aspect with flight — somebody pedaling as hard as they can to get that thing off the ground,” said Veltre, who plans to write his honors thesis on structural acoustics for rotorcraft structures. “It’s kind of funny to think about. If you’ve ever seen a human-powered aircraft it’s kind of humorous, because they’re only flying a couple feet off the ground.”

Veltre has had internships at GE Aviation Additive Technology Center and the Boeing Philadelphia Design Center, working on projects such as the Chinook helicopter and 3D printing of fuel nozzles, and he will intern with Bell Helicopter this summer. 

First, he has another race to run, in multiple senses of the word.

“Race day is probably the best day of my year, because you get to see the whole thing come together, for the most part successfully,” he said. “You get to put a dent in the universe. You get to exact real, quantifiable change.”

Last Updated February 28, 2017