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Taking flight at TCC’s Drone Academy

Tidewater Community College’s summer Drone Academy, sponsored by the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services and coordinated by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, provided a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones.

This camp was for students with disabilities with an interest in drones and pursuing a career in the field.

“TCC’s Drone Academy provided students with a place to utilize their creativity while gaining knowledge in a subject they are enthusiastic about,” said Judy Gill, director of UAS operations and drone professor. “It is wonderful to see students grow in their skills and knowledge of this emerging field.”

In addition to learning to fly drones, students were able to tour TCC’s state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center, view a planetarium show, see a Physics of Flight demonstration, hear from guest speakers and attend a career exploration session.

Students also learned the basics of drone photography from TCC Professor Thomas Siegmund. They practiced flying drones and obtaining quality images at the same time.

Students also learned about the extensive rules and regulations that must be adhered to when flying an Unmanned Aircraft System. Gavin, a camp student, said, “I didn’t realize before how stressful it is to fly a professional drone. There is a lot that goes on besides just flying it.”

After completing their TRUST Certification Exam, students were permitted to operate the drones themselves. At the end of the week, they had the chance to highlight their new skills by participating in the Drone Physics Olympics against other campers. Campers worked together to design and implement an obstacle course and timed how quickly they could fly the drone through the course.

In addition to their drone pilot skills, students worked together to foster the skills of team building and communication.

TCC offers drone classes each semester and will soon be launching a full Drone Program. For more information, email Gill at

Flying high this summer

Remember watching “The Jetsons” and seeing the kids “delivered” to school via spaceship? Well, flash forward to 2018 and we have the technology to build and operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as drones, but we don’t have a trained workforce to operate them.

That is where Tidewater Community College professors Judy Gill and Eric Beaver come in. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, administered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the pair participated in the Geospatial Technician Education-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (GeoTEd-UAS) project.

GeoTEd-UAS is a statewide partnership to develop the UAS workforce through new career pathways and faculty training for professors at Virginia’s Community Colleges. More than 20 faculty participated this year.

This is the second year of training for Gill and Beaver, who earned their Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Pilot License before attending this year. Gill, who teaches math, and Beaver, who teaches mechatronics, spent a week planning and flying missions, collecting and processing data and learning to write reports on findings.

They also reviewed federal and state regulations, learned about repairing and maintaining vehicles and discussed integrating student service-learning projects into college pathways.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to bring back to TCC what we learned and to share that knowledge with our students. We see the necessity for this type of training across many disciplines,” Gill said.

Gill and Beaver will now work with TCC’s curriculum committee to develop courses for UAS, a rapidly growing technology. In fact, the college may eventually launch a career studies certificate in UAS.

“As drones continue to become more widely used, the development, repair, programming and building of these devices will require trained technicians with a mechatronics background,” said Beaver. “Familiarity with UAS is going to be a required skill for the technological workforce of 2020, or even sooner.”

Other areas of use for drone training across disciplines may include horticulture, criminal justice, civil engineering technology and photography.