A drone buzzed through the air as Pueblo Community College’s Heather Houk ran across the back lot of the school with the drone hot on her heels. The drone caught up and hovered in front of her, staring her in the face.
The drone, which had locked its sights on Houk, was being controlled by Train the Trainer drone course student Mariah Klinger, who demonstrated how the drone would remain in front of Houk after it had locked its sights on her face.
Other drone students did similar exercises, including navigating an obstacle-type course that required technical maneuvering so the drone operator could see the numbers and letters inside the various buckets in the obstacle course.
The Train the Trainer drone course runs June 19 to Aug. 18; and the in-person portion of the course, on July 10-12.
The course instructs participants about FAA rules and regulations for drone flight and skills for flying drones while preparing students to obtain an FAA UAS (drone) pilot license by the end of the course in August.
No previous drone experience was required to enroll in the class. In the course, students learn how to fly drones, along with learning the skills needed to teach others how to fly.
According to the program flyer, students who finish the course will “earn the credentials to teach small unmanned aircraft systems in the high school as well as opportunities to teach concurrent drones courses for PCC Southwest.”
“We fly a variety of different kinds of drones so that we can all learn how the drones differ,” Houk said. “Some drones are really easy because they have these really fancy GPS programming that don't let you crash. That's always really fun, and you feel confident really quickly. And then we’ve also got drones that are more like starter drones that you would use with high school kids because they’re less expensive and if they break something, it’s OK.”
Students were also invited to bring their personal drones to get more in-depth training and practice on the drone they will be using.
PCC drone instructor Evert Brown watched the trainees, saying his favorite part of teaching drone classes is watching the students’ excitement and improvement over the course of the class.
Brown has been a drone instructor for four years and has been in education for more than 30 years. He started becoming interested in drones after assigning a drone project to his field biology students at the time. Soon, he became a drone instructor.
Houk, the agriculture program coordinator for PCC, also gave the obstacle course a shot, demonstrating how each joystick worked as she viewed the numbers and letters from the various buckets.
Klinger, who is Ignacio’s agriculture teacher for grades 7 through 12, said she is taking the course with the hope that Ignacio High School can add a drone program.
Students of the course ranged from teachers to CDOT employees learning how to add drones to their job and field.
“They’re all kind of learning together and brainstorming how best to take this information back into their working lives,” Houk said.
Evertt said one of the exciting things that have come out of this class has been hearing attendees talk about ideas they have for how to incorporate drones into their jobs in a way that may not have been done before.
“We’re training people for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” Houk said.
Members of the Train the Trainers class were:
- Seth Ward, director of Colorado Community College System’s skilled trades program.
- Houk, PCC agriculture coordinator.
- Brian Campbell, Colorado Department of Transportation Region 5 hydraulics engineer.
- Ben Myers, CDOT Region 5 survey unit.
- James Walsh, CDOT Region 5 survey unit.
- Drew Semel, Animas High School digital arts teacher.
- Klinger, Ignacio High School agriculture teacher.
- Quinton Jacket, Ute Mountain Ute elder.
- Gene Jacques, Sky Ute Casino security chief.
- Daniel Ramirez, teacher in Washington.
- Elliot Baglini, Animas High School teacher.
Along with the Train the Trainers course, PCC offers drone classes during the fall and spring semesters as well as intensive courses in the summers.
PCC has branched out into Mancos High School and two tribal locations, helping high school students and other interested individuals obtain their FAA UAS (drone) pilot license, opening the door to a plethora of job opportunities that may not have been possible otherwise.
Brown noted that one of his former students now owns her own drone photography business where she takes photos for various real estate companies for their home listings.
The baseline pay for drone operators with their pilot’s license is $60,000 per year, providing many opportunities for those who obtain their license.
Those who are interested and wish for more information on upcoming PCC drone courses can contact Houk for more information by emailing Heather.Houk@pueblocc.edu or calling (970) 564-6230.