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Taking flight at TCC’s Drone Academy

Professor Judy Gill with a student at the 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