By Bailey Brown
SAN MARCOS – The annual Mass Comm Week of 2019 held the third Drones Workshop in Sewell Park from 2-3:20 p.m. Thursday with Dale Blasingame and Sara Shields leading the workshop for Texas State students.
Before students were allowed to fly, there were six basic safety regulations to cover. The pilot must know their air space: how high or how far the area will permit you to go. The pilot can only fly up to 400 feet, this workshop only flew at about 20 feet. The pilot must stay away from clouds, trees, birds, and indecent weather that may damage the drone. Heavy rain or strong wind is not the time to fly a drone. The drone cannot be flown over people or at night. The pilot must always keep an eye on the drone.
The drone used for the workshop was a Dà-Jiāng Innovations Mavic Pro One. It costs about $1,250 and it has a 4K pixel resolution, and comes with a remote control. The drone can be flown using any smartphone, or can be flown using a smart controller with a built-in screen. The drone lasts up to 20 minutes until its next charge. It can go as high as 16,404 feet and can reach a maximum speed of 40 mph.
Texas State University Police Department would only permit the drones to fly in a designated area. Instead, students and faculty trekked across the street, opposite the park, to a grassy open field.
The sky was clear with only a few vultures flying to the left of the field. The wind was steady and the sun was behind each pilot so everyone could keep sight of the drone. Blasingame began with calibrating the drone, which is essential to do before take-off. He used his iPhone to connect to the controller. Then, each student flew the drone with guidance from Shields.
If a vulture flew a little too close, students were instructed to shout, “Bird!” to remind the pilot to prepare for landing so no bird will be in danger. They were instructed on how to get the drone to about 20 feet, then have it rotate full circle, and lastly on how to move it left/right. Each student looked excited to fly a drone for the first time.
Homer Soto, a student at Texas State University, had a successful take-off and landing on his first try.
“I’ve never flown a drone before and I thought this was a great opportunity to learn. I would want to learn how to fly one before I buy one, since they are so expensive,” he said.
Blasingame, a professor at Texas State University and a licensed drone pilot, has found use for drones in his past and present work experiences. He teaches a Drones Bootcamp class during the spring semesters. This class prepares students to take the Federal Aviation Administration 107 Drone Exam to receive their license. He has had his license since February 2017.
“Drones have always made sense to me since I came from TV News [so,] it was a natural fit for me. I have taught the [Drones Bootcamp] class five or six times now and I just had my first student take the licensing test. She passed with a 90,” he said. “With that license, you can fly a drone commercially. It is really difficult to get students to take the exam after the class ends. The test costs $150 whether you pass or fail, so there can be some intimidation there. But, many students take the class to learn more about drones.”
Shields, a lecturer at Texas State University and a licensed drone pilot, has had her license since May 2017. She uses it for freelance videography in order to offer drone services for weddings and real estate. This is her first time leading the drone workshop.
“I am excited to see students fly the drone. People’s eyes light up the first time they fly it and they often say, ‘this is the coolest thing ever,’ and that is really exciting [for me] to see,” she said.
Jake Fest, a Texas State University alumnus, said he came to the workshop to see what the environment is like for the future of drones, as he starts his new job using them.
“Drones are pretty easy to pick up and understand after you get a little bit of experience,” he said. “I just got my license recently and I just got picked up from Shutterbook Studios. Which is a company that does commercial residential real estate for photography and videography.”
The spring semester will offer Drones Bootcamp MC 1100M with Blasingame.
“A friend of mine and I have done some drone presentations in the past and he calls us ‘good cop/mediocre cop.’ I’m always the good cop who preaches safety and following the rules,” he said. “I like helping students understand there are rules in place and it is super important to know how to handle a drone. Students are usually so nervous to fly because they are way more conscious of the rules than I am sometimes; which is a really good thing that I’m proud of.”