Kid drone pilots soar at new Butler County camp

For the first time, classrooms of kids are piloting through the skies of Butler County this summer.

They are learning how to pilot drones at the area’s first drone summer camp at Butler Tech.

There’s a lot more to it then working a hand-held controller and avoiding trees.

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Students – some as young as 7 years old – are learning the rules of the skies, how drones and their computer software work, how to assemble the flying machines and triangulate their flights with satellite coordinates, how pilots communicate and how Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations apply to drones.

It’s intense fun and it may translate into future careers for the youngsters in flight technologies, computer science, engineering or other careers, said Drone Camp co-founder Matt King.

“We have two licensed drone pilots on staff … (students) get to take apart a drone and put it back together, they get to build it, they get to do search and rescue missions … and we teach them the safety and ethics when it comes to flying,” said King from the drone camp’s classroom on the Fairfield Township campus of Butler Tech.

The Duke Energy Foundation recently awarded a $45,000 grant to Butler Tech for development of drone technology education programs.

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Butler Tech has identified drone technology as having significant future impact on careers, with applications across a wide range of industry.

Commercial drone sales are expected to skyrocket from 600,000 in 2016 to about 2.7 million by 2020, according to the FAA.

Drones are increasingly being used in agriculture, news gathering, utility inspection, public safety, and supply chain management. The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates there could be more than 100,000 drone-related jobs created by 2025.

To help meet this future workforce need, Butler Tech will be adding drone technology instruction to existing high school programs in fall of 2017. The course module will prepare students to earn required commercial drone certification, according to the school.

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Lakota Plains Junior School student Grant Hagaman appreciates all that but smiles widest when he talks about what thrills him most about drone camp.

“I like flying drones,” said the 12 year old.

“It’s just fun, you get to fly something in the air,” said Hagaman.

Adam Lacefield of Middletown stops by toward the end of class for his 7-year-old daughter Lauren and marvels as she deftly manipulates a drone a few feet off the ground in the relatively tight confines of the classroom.

“I’m blown away by this,” said Lacefield.

“She has been ecstatic about coming here and she could not wait. She and her generation are very technologically oriented … everything we have seen so far is great,” he said.

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Classes, which cost $310 per student, are half-day sessions and students get to build and take home their own drone by the end of camp.

Michael Beauchat, spokesman for Butler Tech, said “the impact of drone technology on careers can’t be ignored.”

“The applications are so numerous. The kids are loving this. They are coming in excited and leaving even more excited,” he said.

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