Is it a bird or a plane?
Neither. It’s a drone. And if a person wants to learn more, Anne Arundel Community College is offering noncredit in-person and online courses starting this semester.
Assistant Dean for Workforce Development Kip Kunsman said the technology is something that touches every industry. It’s used in tourism. It’s used in agriculture. A drone could survey a power grid or a crime scene.
“It’s really infiltrated just about every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not,” he said.
And, accordingly, the college felt the need to get information about drones out to the community. They have planned an array of courses, from the basics and what a person needs to know to secure a remote pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, to more specific applications in various career fields.
A small group of students gathered at the school’s Center for Cyber and Professional Training on Saturday for the inaugural drone-related open enrollment class, Flying Unmanned Aerial Systems and Understanding Unmanned Aerial System Technology.
The all-day course gave students the basics — an introduction to flying and commercial and noncommercial regulations.
Hobbyists need to register their drones and know where they can fly and where they can’t. People interested in commercial applications must first pass a FAA test.
Annapolis resident and former Air Force pilot Robert Richardson has between 3,500 and 3,800 hours of experience flying multi-engine and large-engine aircraft, he said. He has another 500 hours of experience flying general aviation aircraft, mainly a seaplane.
During the course Saturday, he and the other students flew two drones: first, a tiny drone no larger than a dinner plane; next, one that was about a foot across.
With the drones, Richardson has to complete functions he might usually carry out with his feet with his thumbs instead, he said. He is also used to being in the cockpit where he gets a plane’s eye view, rather than behind a remote, where he relies on depth perception to judge how to maneuver.
He overcame both those challenges. The drones the students were piloting Saturday are made by a company called Parrot — which was fitting because, by the end of class, Richardson could make the unmanned vehicle hover just next to his shoulder.
The larger of the drones was equipped with a camera, which some students used to take photos of themselves.
Mike Peduto, of Millersville, said he took the course because he was behind the tech curve on remotely piloted vehicles.
“But not anymore,” he said.
Melanie Hildebrand, also of Millersville, said she enrolled because she wanted more information about drones — and she may eventually like to move into the search and rescue field, another possible application of the technology.
While it was a one-day class, Kunsman said they plan to offer it again in the future. And other types of drone-related classes have been scheduled.
To get the drone program off the ground quickly, the college has partnered Sinclair Community College in Ohio, which provided program coordinator and remote pilot Ryan Palm for Saturday’s class.
Sinclair is approximately a 500-mile drive from AACC’s main campus. As the drone flies, it is 415 miles away.
Sinclair already has a fine-tuned model for teaching these types of programs, Kunsman said, and will share expertise and curriculum with Anne Arundel Community College.
Sinclair has a National UAS Training and Certification Center and has been working in the drone industry for a decade, Palm said.
“We know what it takes,” he said. “We’ve made those mistakes.”
Drones can help survey damage after a natural disaster, Palm said. They can also be used for much more mundane tasks, like checking a roof — if you suspect a roof is damaged, it’s better to send a drone up than a person.
Together with Sinclair, AACC is offering eight online courses starting next month. There is an online version of Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Systems, but also more specific offerings for precision agriculture, first responders and media.
In addition to the courses offered in partnership with Sinclair, the college has teamed up with United Kingdom-based drone consulting company Consortiq to offer additional classes. Consortiq has an office in Annapolis.
Those courses will include an online remote pilot exam preparation course and two in-person courses on operation and flight essentials.
This article has been updated to correct Ryan Palm’s title. He is a program coordinator with Sinclair.