Courses prepare students to use drones to maximum effect

- Press | sUAS News

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ABINGDON, Va. — While drones may be fun gadgets to fly for hobbyists, a local college is offering classes to better prepare students to operate the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) legally and safely while setting them up to use drones in professional settings.

Virginia Highlands Community College is offering a three-day Remote Airman Training course starting March 20 for anyone who wants to receive a license to fly a drone.

The test prep course is not a “how to fly a drone” opportunity but instead a course that teaches drone users how to pass the test to receive a license.

“The course teaches everything you need to know to pass the Part 107 FAA Drone Pilot Exam,” said Kevin Hamed, biology professor at the college and an instructor of the drone classes.

According to Hamed, even hobbyists can benefit from receiving their licenses.

“As a hobbyist, you are very limited on the airspace you can fly within. Recreational drones can’t fly within 5 miles of an airport. So the benefit of having a license is being able to fly in more areas.”

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The drone revolution is soaring throughout the world and right here in Southwest Virginia, said Hamed.

“We know that Amazon already has test markets where they are doing delivery service nationwide. They’re already delivering in the United Kingdom,” said Hamed.

“UPS is doing some amazing trials, too, where they have drone and drivers working together — basically doubling the number of packages they can deliver in a day.

“So we’re going to see drones used in many applications.

“Anyone thinking about a career in natural resources, engineering, city planning and the military needs experience with drones because in the next five to 10 years, drones are going to be absolutely everywhere,” he said. “For a young person, getting these skills is only going to make them more competitive in a very competitive work environment.”

The test prep classes started in 2017 at the community college with help from Virginia Tech to get started. “Virginia Tech has been essential in the success of our program,” said Hamed, who, along with co-instructor Tamara Lasley, received training from the school.

He estimated as many as 80 local students have enrolled in the courses at Virginia Highlands Community College.

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Hamed said the classes will cover FAA regulations all drone users should know.

The professor said a license is required for any activity that could be construed as a commercial, moneymaking activity.

“For example, a friend may ask you for take photos with your drone at their family reunion in the backyard. If they invite you to have dinner with them in exchange for the photos, the FAA considers that you’ve been compensated for flying,” explained Hamed.

“Technically, you’re in violation of the law because you flew a commercial mission without a license.”

During the training, participants will review the five main testing areas, including Regulations, National Airspace System, Weather, Loading/Performance and Operations, as well as other information that pertains to commercial operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) under FAA Part 107. Class members will have the opportunity to take practice tests, as well as participate in planning a UAS mission and conducting hands-on indoor test flights.

Teacher sharing knowledge

Drones already are being used for military operations, monitoring livestock on farms with vast acreage, tracking and mapping fires to help with emergency response, weather forecasting, humanitarian and disaster relief and more.

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“The No. 1 application for drones is agriculture, and the No. 1 employer for Washington County is agriculture,” said Hamed. “Our leading industry is agriculture, and drones can do so much for agriculture, and we’re excited about that.”

Mindy McCroskey, an agriculture teacher at Abingdon High School, recently received her license to fly a drone after completing the classes at the community college, followed by passing a written test.

Locations for test centers for the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 UAS examinations include Sevier County Choppers in Sevierville, Tennessee, and LC’s Flying Service in Blacksburg, Virginia.

“I wanted to learn more about it so I can teach it to my students,” said McCroskey.

“With an increase in technology in agriculture, I figured it would be good to pass this information on drones to my students so they can seek job opportunities within the industry.”

A drone used at the school operates with software that allows the students to analyze fields and determine where fertilization needs to take place.

“During the course, I learned how to operate a drone properly and about the safety precautions, and more importantly, I learned about the FAA regulations when flying a drone,” said McCroskey.

“I also got helpful tips on teaching my students the proper techniques.”

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“People are using drones not just because they’re cool and fun to fly, but businesses are using them because they realize it saves them money.

“That’s what is going to drive this trend. A business is more likely to use technology to make their business more efficient.”

Matt Poe of Abingdon has turned his fascination with drones into a lucrative business.

Poe experimented with different beginner drones just as a hobby before he saw the gadget as a big moneymaker.

In 2018, he began his own business, Poe Media & Solutions, after enrolling in the drone classes at the community college and later receiving his license.

The commercial drone operator averages about four jobs each month, using his professional drones to produce advertising, photography, videography, commercials and photogrammetry, the art and science of making measurements from photographs.

He’s made commercials for Park Place Drive-In in Marion, topographic example maps for land development companies and 3D models of structures for various types of measurements.

“I’ve created virtual reality content, filmed racing events, sporting events, weddings, corporate training videos and educational videos. I’ve also filmed, directed and edited many advertisements across different industries,” he said.

The entrepreneur quickly learned the cost of a successful drone business came at a higher price than he expected.

In addition to purchasing three drones, Poe also had to invest in hard drive equipment and two computers that are equipped to handle the large resolution files, all of which amounted to $45,000. He’s currently setting up a studio in Bristol, Virginia, for his media business.

Word of mouth has been his best form of advertising so far. He’s completed jobs throughout Southwest Virginia, but one of his next jobs will take him to South Carolina for a televised dog event.

Remote Airman Training will be held 6 to 9 p.m. on March 20 and 21, and from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on March 23 at the Instruction and Student Center at Virginia Highlands Community College. Additional classes will be held April 1-4.

Cost is $122 for Virginia residents.

For more information or to register for the classes, call 276-739-2430.

Original article at sUAS News, here.

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