Drone program takes flight at GRB

FULTON — Four Fulton City School District staff members received certification under the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems, known as Part 107, to instruct a newly formed class designed to prepare students for careers that involve drone technology.

Carol Teetsel, Geoff Bertollini, Mike Conners and Dan Mainville received their “drone wings” in February during the district’s virtual Board of Education meeting with a goal to help students earn theirs as well.

Mainville, who instructs the elective class of about 20 G. Ray Bodley (GRB) students, says students are trained using two different aircraft models to become adept at solving mechanical failures and mastering essential piloting skills.

“I wouldn’t even call (FCSD) ahead of the curve when it comes to drone technology,” Mainville said. “They’re on the other side of the globe when it comes to this type of experience for our students.”

Students begin their 300-hour course training using SYMA drones, which lack the easy-to-use GPS technology and self-stabilization found on the district’s higher end DJI Mavic 2 Pro series drones, so they are best prepared to respond to worst-case scenarios using critical thinking.

“You have to anticipate all the time that you’re going to lose GPS, that you’re going to cause an accident, and you have to know how to react when that happens,” Mainville said.

Bertollini, who provides technical support for the district, works with other class instructors to provide one-on-one assistance to each student as they navigate the technical and conceptual approaches to drone piloting. Outside the classroom, Bertollini uses drones to market real estate, survey land and take aerial photos of scenery around Oswego County.

He says the opportunity for students to obtain their Part 107 certification opens doors to a variety of occupations, many of which are integrating the latest drone technologies that did not exist just a decade ago.

“Firefighting today uses drone infrared technology to see through smoke,” he said, naming a few examples of how drones are used in the 21st century workforce, “You also have the ability in cold weather to see warm objects for search and rescue missions.”

Conners, who also works in instructional technology, agrees. “For me, it’s broadened my skillset and I think it’s a great resume builder for students in the future,” he said.

While students in class currently meet twice a week, Mainville is hopeful spring will offer them more opportunities to prepare for the Part 107 license exam and gain more hands-on experience with the aircraft.

“I would love to see the kids spend two or three days outside with small projects and getting used to how to use drones in the real world,” he said. “It’s not just throwing them up and taking a picture of the sunset.”

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