MIDDLETOWN — In promotion of its newly launched drone program, Laurel Ridge Community College hosted a Drone Day on Tuesday to let the community learn more about the new program and allow potential students to try their hand at flying drones.
This fall semester, Laurel Ridge will offer a seven-week online course that covers such topics as regulations; loading and performance; emergency procedures; crew resource management; determining the craft's performance, as well as maintenance and inspection procedures. Students will have the opportunity to come in-person on campus with the instructor to fly drones during the course or take videos of themselves at home flying the drones for assignments in order to prepare for the final exam.
The course will prepare students for the Federal Aviation Administration exam that must be passed to obtain a remote pilot certificate and be able to fly a drone.
Melissa Stange, a Laurel Ridge computer science teacher, is leading the program.
“It’s more than just studying for a test and taking the exam and passing it to get your pilot license,” she said. “We want to promote safety, but we want people to see that the UASs are beyond more than just toys.”
There were also several professional drone experts and businesses at Drone Day to discuss the rising industry, provide demonstrations, and help attendees fly drones. Some experts and businesses attending Drone Day included a Virginia Tech representative, Skydio (a drone manufacturing company), the Virginia Department of Aviation, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the FAA and Greenway Engineering.
Liv Heggoy, Laurel Ridge Education Foundation's director, is surprised by the drone industry's growth and the many related career opportunities in the field.
“All the different professions and industries that are used in drones now — it’s more than I ever knew,” Heggoy said.
A parking lot near campus served as the demonstration/fly zone for Drone Day attendees to test out different crafts. The VDA also showcased an ICON A5, a light-sport aircraft.
Inside the school building, attendees could pilot mini drones through an obstacle course or practice flying a drone in a drone cage. There was even a Snapchat Pixy drone, which follows a person and takes photos. Computers were also set up for recreational drone flyers to take a 15-minute FAA safety test that allows people to legally fly drones.
Prizes and giveaways were also handed out including LRCC merchandise as well as drawings for mini drones and 10 scholarships that would cover tuition and textbook costs for the introductory drone course.
Tyler Rock, an incoming Laurel Ridge freshman, thinks the new drone program sounds cool.
“I’d definitely take classes,” he said.
Vanessa Panaway, a parent of a Laurel Ridge student, says the event was informative and a great way to introduce the program.
“This is a great opportunity. You don’t know where anything is going to take you until you try it,” she said.
Laurel Ridge President Kimberly Blosser said the drone program is a great idea, and the school is trying to meet the incoming demands of the industry.
“What we were always trying to do is look for the up and coming areas in career training programs,” she said.
According to Stange, only 30 students can take the introductory drone course this fall and it's nearly halfway full. Aug. 22 is the first day of classes and the registration deadline for the course.