Carroll County Public Schools continue to remain on the cutting edge of technology as Curt Sumner’s Pre-Engineering class recently had the opportunity to take the wheel of a Phantom 4 drone.
Drone technology has grown so quickly over the past couple of years the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has had to step in to regulate its usage. That didn’t stop Sumner’s class from getting the chance to pilot one of the modern marvels May 26.
“Considering there are only about 5,000 registered commercial drones nationwide, that is a really small number and we have one here in our classroom,” said CCHS Pre-Engineering student Landon Haynes. “It’s a great hands-on activity. It’s a lot easier to pick up than something that is just out of the textbook. There are tons of drone simulators and stuff you can go and experience on the computer, but you can’t beat that hands-on experience.”
Sumner’s Pre-Engineering class is a mixture of high school students in grades 9-12. While Sumner and other CTE instructors have offered a drone club for students, the May 26 activity was the first time drone technology had been used in an actual classroom setting at CCHS.
Helping with the drone class May 26 was Michael Laney of CyberKids, a Lenoir, N.C.-based organization specializing in STEM-related education and activities. The organization’s CyberDrones’ program introduces students to the world of “flying robots” as they learn navigation, GPS technology, common aerodynamic concepts and autopilot technology.
“They offered this program to us for kids interested in drones and learning how drones work, learning what it takes to be involved with a drone project. You’ve got to learn the different areas of the team because there is a safety person, there is a co-pilot, there is a pilot on the team,” Sumner said. “We had been doing it as a club, but we wanted to do it during classes because you get so many more kids involved in it that way.”
The particular drone CCHS students used May 26 can fly up to a mile out, but FAA regulations limit users to keep drones in sight now. For the class, students were allowed to fly the drone up to three-tenths of a mile out and 400 meters (or a quarter of a mile) high. Sumner said the purpose of using a drone in class was to introduce students to a technology that has become so popular the FAA is now having to regulate it. Drones are much more than just a hobby these days.
“So many businesses are getting into it now. It used to be that construction companies would hire somebody to go up in an airplane and take pictures, but in an airplane you’ve only got a second to take a shot,” Sumner said. “With this thing you can hover and take multiple shots. It’s pretty awesome what they can do with it.”
Sumner noted drones were used during the massive flooding in South Carolina last fall to inspect bridges and other damages that were not accessible by land. Laney said he tries to impart on students how successful the drone business has become. For instance, his company contracts out drones for classes at $175 an hour.
“It’s a very lucrative business and you really have a monopoly so long as you keep your certifications up and operate within the budget. It is really cool trying to get the kids involved because there are some of them that really take advantage of it,” Laney said. “They ask really pertinent questions and you can see their wheels turning. Even if they are not going to do something with this technology, it is opening their eyes up to the alternative to this sort of topography service/video service is using a plane or a helicopter, and that has all sorts of restrictions. You can’t get as close.”
Haynes said the May 26 class was his second hands-on experience with a drone. Drones have always interested him.
“I have always wanted to have the opportunity to use one and have that experience,” Haynes said. “And now after doing this, it has kind of opened my eyes to all the things you can do with drones such as all the actual marketable applications.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN