It seems like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, but as we move through the 2020s drones will become more and more common.
That is why Cambridge High School’s STEM program is embracing drone technology and offering a drone class this school year. Four students were enrolled in the class taught by STEM teacher Tom Hannon this fall.
The students have learned to fly and care for the drones and will complete a curriculum that will prepare them to take a test and earn a commercial drone pilot license.
“So far we’ve been flying missions every day and taking advantage of the good weather,” said Hannon.
The missions have included inspecting the school’s gutters, taking fall foliage pictures, a distance mission, and a maximum height mission.
“They can fly them quite a distance – about a half-mile,” Hannon said. “You do need a line of sight between drone and controller that is not blocked for the radio signal to travel.”
The students have flown the mini-drones they use from the high school up over Northwood Cemetery and they have also taken them to their maximum height.
The mini drones come in a kit that includes rechargeable batteries and a charging station. They weigh 249 grams and include a camera and GPS system. In fact, they have a homing mechanism that will bring the drone back to its starting point if they get lost out of sight.
“The drones provide a great deal of ability for the pilot to maneuver them, but they are also pretty stable,” Hannon said. “It is not like an airplane where you have to have constant forward motion to have lift. Plus, with the GPS built into them, you have to try pretty hard to crash them.”
Even so, student Grayson Geese managed to crash his drone into a tree.
“I was trying to show off for my friends,” Geese willingly confessed. “I flew it between two trees, and I thought I was going to make it, but I hit the tree. I could see it was going to happen, I tried to fly it backwards, but I was going too fast.”
No damage was done to the drone which is still operational. And, the incident provides for a good bit of fun between Hannon, Geese, and the other students.
“I definitely improved my maneuverability since then,” Geese added. “I am not going to run into a tree again. I want to be a pilot when I grow up and I always wanted to be a drone pilot too, so I thought it would be a good idea to take this class and get my license.”
Classmate Ty Reed compared flying the drone to playing Xbox.
“It’s related to playing a video game,” Reed said. “You have a controller and a screen. Yeah, it’s similar. I thought it would be interesting to be able to fly drones. I’ve been interested in doing this for a while, so I took the class. It’s been pretty fun so far.”
The main part of the curriculum includes taking a course that will prepare them to test and get their Part 107 license which means they will be a licensed commercial drone pilot and they will be able to make money as a drone pilot.
“As far as getting your license, there is really no flying involved,” Hannon said. “You don’t have to pass any maneuverability test with the drone. The part 107 license is about knowledge of air space, where you can fly, where you can’t fly, and what all the restrictions are.”
According to Hannon, anyone can get a recreational license and fly. But if you are earning money, you must have a commercial license. The goal right now is that the students will take the licensing course and test during the colder winter months.
“Once we get into the course for their license, there is a great deal of math,” Hannon explained. “You have to understand geometry, trajectory, and degrees and all that stuff.”
Students will also have to learn about the different types of air space like restricted airspace near bigger airports.
“Ninety-five percent of the material they may never encounter, but you have to know it,” said Hannon, who is planning on completing the course and taking the test with his students. “It’s a pretty wide range of materials you have to study.”
Hannon also is exploring job opportunities with the class. One of the local opportunities is to take aerial photographs of houses and properties that realtors are trying to sell.
“I plan to reach out to some of our local real estate agents to see what their interest level is,” Hannon said. “I understand there is some pretty good money made by real estate photographers.”
Hannon also talked about companies like AEP that formerly sent crews to inspect all their lines in the rural areas but now are doing inspections with drones.
“A lot of companies are starting to hire drone pilots just to have for general inspections,” Hannon said. “Roofing companies, for example, will do inspections of a roof with a drone before they replace them.”
Some other career options for larger drones include delivering packages and spraying crops to control insects or fertilize.
“I already have a drone at home, so I figured I might as well get my license,” said Jackson Froehlich, a student. “I will be glad to take advantage of opportunities where I can use my license and maybe make some money. Plus, I thought it would be a fun class.”
There are also military applications although the service branches usually provide their own pilot training.
Autumn Wear owns her own drone that she flies with her father.
“We have a drone at home. My dad, who is in the Air Force, flies it with me and kind of helps me,” Wear said. “He knows how to fly them, and I’ve had fun learning. In fact, I signed up for the class because I thought it was really fun and I might be able to get a job out of it, maybe flying a drone in the Air Force.”
Having fun is one of the reasons Hannon offered a drone class, one of the few drone classes offered at the high school level.
“This is the only school I know that has this program. I’ve seen other schools online, but I have yet to find one in Ohio,” Hannon said. “This is a technology that has practical uses already and they are only going to expand in the future, so this is a great opportunity for our students. Plus, it is a lot of fun.”