row2k Features
Navy's Adrien Richez
March 27, 2024
Erik Dresser,

Richez stroking the 2023 Navy Varsity 8+

This week we continue our 2024 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Navy senior heavyweight Adrien Richez. We chat with him on his dual French citizenship, the Trident Scholar Program, and more.

row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?

Adrien Richez - After struggling with coordinating my gangly frame on the soccer pitch, football field, and other ball sports for years, my uncle introduced me to the ergometer, the Iron Stallion. Beyond no longer having to look like a confused Great Dane, I uncovered a profoundly satisfying link between effort and results during my workouts. I eagerly joined my local rowing club and never looked back. Shortly thereafter, Coach Friedrich took a chance and granted me the opportunity to row for Navy; an opportunity for which I am grateful beyond words.

row2k - You have dual citizenship for USA and France which is probably fairly uncommon for Midshipmen, how did you decide to attend the Naval Academy?

Adrien Richez - When I was a little boy growing up in a Francophone household, my parents would read to me in their thick, French accents and have me watch American shows and films about test pilots and astronauts as a method of teaching me English. This, coupled with the values of hard work and service, deeply ingrained in me by my grandfather, who himself attended a counterpart to the Naval Academy in France (l'Ecole Polytechnique), have profoundly influenced my path. These solidified my commitment to a life dedicated to service and have fueled my aspiration to contribute to the scientific and engineering communities as an aerospace engineer, test pilot, and ultimately as an astronaut. Thus, it was a logical goal to pursue attending this incredible institution.

After being here for 4 years, the Naval Academy has been a journey in itself that has surpassed every expectation. I do not believe there is another undergraduate institution in the world that develops oarsmen to compete at a high level while simultaneously affording opportunities like working on projects that are sent up to the International Space Station (ISS), pursuing advanced pilot certifications, interning at the NASA Astronaut Office, diving the depths of the ocean aboard a Nuclear Submarine, or rip across the skies in an F/A-18 Super Hornet.

This combined with the bustling and exciting town of Annapolis and the Washington Metropolitan Area makes it a terrific "work-hard, play-hard" environment. I couldn't imagine myself having gone anywhere else for rowing or undergraduate studies, especially with the life-long friendships I've developed.

Post Growler flight on the Flight Deck of the USS Ronald Reagan
Post Growler flight on the Flight Deck of the USS Ronald Reagan

row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?

Adrien Richez - I believe that it is the truest form of team sports. Nothing else requires such mental and physical synchrony amongst its participants for success; such brutish physicality from technicians of the sport. The process of developing that synchrony and finding the swing in a crew is something that has taught me more about peer leadership and team dynamics than any leadership classroom or other sport. That, coupled with how results are directly tied to the effort put in during preparation, is what makes this sport so gratifying to me. The hard work required for success amongst many different individuals creates a brotherhood and lifelong bonds. It's a gift from the sport.

To emphasize my point, although I was blessed with a frame for rowing it did not come naturally to me. I struggled my first two years at Navy, racing in the engine room of the 6V for the majority of my freshman and sophomore years. During the summer before my junior year, I put my head down and spent time learning how to move small boats effectively. I sought to become a student of the sport while racking up mileage on the ergo. Combined with the patience of the coaching staff at Navy and their outstanding developmental instruction, I was able to earn the stroke seat of the Varsity during the spring of my junior year. I don't like bringing up personal accolades, but I think it's important to demonstrate why the sport of rowing is such a great teacher of life lessons; the direct correlation between dedication and results.

row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?

Adrien Richez - The 2023 Head of the Schuylkill Regatta this past fall felt like a culmination of a team-wide buildup in fitness, boatspeed, and team culture. The coaches at Navy have revamped our training regimen which I believe has done wonders to develop our aerobic base and our technical acumen for how to move an 8 effectively. It was incredibly satisfying to come away from the regatta with solid results for the team and a terrific launchpad going into winter training and the spring season.

I didn't really register much until we had the boat back on racks and the guys were embracing each other after a great outing. I couldn't help but get a little teary eyed to think about how this was '24's final season at Navy and how my brothers and I would be pulling for each other in a different kind of race in a year's time; preparing to serve in combat on the team that is the armed forces. We'll be spread across the 7 seas whether as submariners, aviators, Marines, sailors, or in the special warfare community to protect and serve wherever duty calls, but we will always be Sons of the Severn-the Brotherhood.

row2k - You're part of the Trident Scholar Program, what is that entail?

Adrien Richez - The Trident Scholar Program at USNA was established in 1963. It offers a unique opportunity for midshipmen to engage in independent study and research during their senior year. The program is open to midshipmen in the top 15 percent of their class to pursue research projects they are passionate about and modify their academic programs to substitute traditional coursework with research and reporting. Scholars receive guidance from USNA faculty advisors and can collaborate with external experts from neighboring laboratories or universities. Trident Scholars often contribute to their discipline through presentations, publications, and patents.

I was blessed enough to be selected as one of 11 Trident scholars in the class of 2024 and have been using the opportunity to research novel autonomous drone guidance, navigation, and control techniques.

Testing Hardware in the Orion Capsule at Building 9 NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX
Testing Hardware in the Orion Capsule at Building 9 NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX

row2k - Now you've done some work with guided drone navigation, what can you tell us about that?

Adrien Richez - So essentially, we're trying to create a flying version of the Tesla autopilot, but instead of a car it's a drone, and, instead of driving on roads, we're autonomously approaching and landing on a moving naval warship. The reason the Navy is interested in this technology has to do with current drone technology being overly reliant on GPS and radio telecommunications; how does the Navy retrieve its drones when those radio frequency-based services are knocked out? Our prospective solution uses cameras to estimate the drone's relative position to the target ship and do some clever math and coding to bring it on in for a landing.

Once we get it working reliably we'll need to characterize its performance relative to existing systems. This technology would increase the Navy's operational readiness and has broader implications for humanitarian applications. This includes facilitating dependable medical aid in underdeveloped areas, conducting disaster relief, and assisting in sustainable agriculture practices through the use of optically georeferenced inertial navigation.

I've been involved with the project for the past two years, and have been able to combine my boyhood hobbies of model aircraft building and drone racing with cutting edge aerospace hardware thanks to the support from the Office of Naval Research. Thus far my supervisor, my fellow teammate Nick Bostock, and myself have been able to publish some peer-reviewed conference articles on the subject. Overall, a really cool opportunity that the Naval Academy has enabled.

row2k - What are you studying at the Naval Academy and do you have any plans for after graduation?

Adrien Richez - I'm currently studying Aerospace Engineering with a focus in fixed-wing aeronautics. These studies combined with my aforementioned research and the Naval Academy's support have enabled me to intern at NASA's Astronaut office Rapid Prototyping Laboratory and do my small part to contribute to humanity's return to the moon. After graduation, I aim to return to Houston on temporary assigned duty before heading to graduate school at Stanford University, where I aspire to earn a Master's in Aeronautics and Astronautics while continuing my rowing career.

Upon completion of my graduate studies, I'll head down to flight school to begin serving as a Naval Aviator. Down the line, I aim to contribute to the development of novel stability and control systems in aeronautical vehicles, and hopefully return to NASA to serve the scientific and engineering communities as we work to further define our place among the stars and improve our quality of life on Earth.

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