Drone Expo marks start of new program at Mountwest

June 10, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Drones are becoming increasingly common in everyday life, and if you aren’t seeing them frequently now, you will be sooner rather than later.

The Geospatial Science and Technology (GST) program at Mountwest Community and Technical College hosted a Drone Expo on campus Friday to spotlight the growing drone industry in the Mountain State.

Several drone experts introduced high school students to different types of drones and their respective uses.

Drone use has become increasingly more popular in today’s world of technology, and though this type of aircraft is openly available to the public, keynote speaker Ben Kroll, COO of Atlanta Drone Group, said the hobby still comes with a responsibility of compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“It’s about being aware of what is around you, understanding the limitations and capabilities of the drone itself and have a general sense of what the FAA wants you to do and doesn’t want you to do,” Kroll said. “As soon as they get a foot off the ground, they are in airspace regulated by the FAA.”

The FAA has specific rules and guidelines applicable to recreational and commercial drones alike. Kroll encouraged drone fliers to visit faa.gov to access need-to-know information on flying drones.

Mountaineer FPV, a drone racing team based in Barboursville, held drone racing demonstrations throughout the day Friday, educating students on how to safely fly, monitor and maintain the drones.

Mountaineer FPV representative Jack Humphrey said those interested in flying drones should start cheap with smaller models that can be found on local shelves.

“The smaller ones are great because they teach muscle memory, and that’s all flying these things are really,” Humphrey said. “Once you learn that, you’re good to go.”

Mountwest gained approval from the West Virginia Community and Technical College System this week for three years of funding for a technical program development grant to start the drone technology program.

Megan Click, Mountwest assistant professor and director of the drone technology program, said the two-year program will provide students the opportunity to become a certified licensed drone pilot and provides the chance to learn more than just how to fly drones.

“We’re going to prepare students to take their FAA Part 107 test to become certified drone pilots,” Click said. “Drones are remote sensing pieces of equipment. Flying the drones is one part of it, but actually getting the data off of them, processing the software and making scientific models out of it is our approach.”

Click compared the process to obtaining a driver’s license. The minimum age requirement for an FAA Part 107 license is 16 years old, set in 2016. She said that’s when Mountwest’s drone technology program took flight.

“Once the FAA changed that law was when we put it into motion to start the drone program and get in before anybody else because it’s real and it’s not going anywhere,” Click said. “Within the next five years, it’s not going to look anything like it does now. We’re on the ground floor, the very beginning.”

Follow reporter Luke Creasy on Twitter @lewk_creasy.