Learning to fly drones


What’s the buzz? Drones!

The Center for Career Services in Valhalla was all abuzz this summer as drones took over campus.

Three intrepid teachers at the technical school took the lead, or in this case the remote control, to learn how to operate a small drone for future use in their classrooms.

The three-day workshop consisted of training with Jon Thies of SkyOp, a training facility specializing in drone operation.

After carefully assembling the X5C-1 Explorers, which is a small, lightweight craft, Sean Harty, Christine Ireland and Jason Poniatowski, rested their aircraft on the floor and synched their controls. Soon the room was full of a loud buzz as each machine slowly lifted off its resting spot and hesitantly took to the air. Some soared right to the ceiling, others stayed inches off the ground and some hovered neatly in mid-air.Each operator admitted it was harder than it looked to control the drone and required a light touch.

As the day went on, the trainees worked their way through a series of exercises that became increasingly more difficult.

They started with the Pitre Hop in which operators gently launched their drones into the air, about 4’ above the ground and gently placed it back on the ground.

“We are not expecting you to be drone pilots at this time,” Mr. Thies said. “It’s all about getting stick time today.”

Eventually the operators were making their drones hop through the room in an exercise appropriately named the Bunny Hop.

As each new drone operator mastered a new skill they smiled at their success and occasionally had a frown of frustration on when the aircraft did not cooperate with their commands.

In addition to learning how to launch, hover, move and land the aircraft, the operators also had to learn how the drone was impacted by its surroundings. The machine would react differently to directions depending on if it was close to the floor or ceiling, which direction the air was moving when pushed by the air conditioner and if it was unimpeded by obstacles around the room.

Operating drones also requires learning about where they can be operated and any federal or local restrictions that may be in place.

The teachers are working together to learn how to use the technology with the hopes of incorporating it into their classroom work.

Mr. Harty, a Sound Production teacher, said the technology is used by several studios, specifically Foley studios, when doing field production out of the studio.

“I figured instead of waiting for it to become a huge thing I’d get out in the forefront,” Mr. Harty said as to why he wanted to learn how to use the technology. In addition, he will be working with the television production classes, a field where drone use is becoming increasingly more common.

For the Architecture and Interior Design class, Ms. Ireland envisions using the technology for photography to capture images of different styles of architecture in some of the large estates in the area.

Mr. Poniatowski, who teachers Office Skills & Occupations & CISMAA, acknowledges more and more industries are using the technology and he is hoping mastering flying the crafts will be a skill his students can take with them when they enter a variety of different fields and industries.

“Fifteen years ago we didn’t know people would have jobs as social media experts,” he said. “Where is this going to go in 15 years? The jobs we are preparing for now don’t even exist yet. I want to open up my students to what may come.”

“And,” he admitted, “they are fun to fly.”

The three teachers are planning on co-teaching their students on how to operate the aircraft. After, they will return to their respective classes to use the technology as they see fit. They will keep a record of how popular the technology is with the students and gage the interest for future expansion of drones in the classroom.