UF/IFAS hosted the first Tri-County Agricultural Area 4-H Drone Camp on June 13-17. The camp was graciously sponsored by the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District, so the host location was in Putnam County.
Eligible participants had to be at least 16 to be eligible to take their FAA Airman Knowledge Exam to get their Part 107 Certification that enables them to fly drones for commercial purposes. However, this was for 4-Hers only, so only youth (18 years old or younger) could participate. Despite the very narrow age range, we had a total of eight participants – three from Flagler County (Jared Foley, Skyler Wahl and John Williford) and five from Putnam County (Paige Griner, Mark Lewandowski, Garrett Seyler, Brandon Stouffer and Samuel Weiner). The leadership was a collaborative team effort by 10 UF/IFAS faculty that consisted of certified drone instructors, commercial Agriculture agents, 4-H agents, Family and Consumer Science agents and one intern.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are becoming an integral part of commercial agriculture, particularly among vegetable cropping systems. They are used to monitor the health of the crops as the latest technology is capable of detecting early onset of disease, nutritional deficiencies and crop maturity. Some are even equipped with spraying capabilities to apply pesticides safely.
Drones are also becoming integrated into real estate sales, bridge and high-rise building inspections, mosquito control and search-and-rescue efforts. The younger “video-game” generation has been practicing their hand-eye coordination since they were born and they are very proficient and comfortable flying drones.
The daily mechanics of the camp included hands-on drone operation exercises with predetermined obstacle courses, presentations on flight patterns, understanding weather influences, flight regulations, career opportunities and learning to communicate with airports using the aeronautical alphabet. The ultimate goal was to equip youth to pass their Part 107 certification exam so they could fly drones legally for professional purposes.
All the participants successfully passed their exams and they are all available for commercial hire to conduct these activities. So if you are looking for a young certified drone operator to assist in your commercial operations, please reach out to Wendy Mussoline ([email protected]) and she could pass your inquiries along. Most of them do not have specialized drones equipped for advanced applications, but they do have the required training. Thousands of dollars can be spent on drone equipment depending on the specified application, but if you choose to hire these brilliant minds, at least you know that your investment is safe.