By: Michael Palacios and Zak Royka
Photo Editor and Website Editor
Thanks to Rose State College, Oklahoma’s investment in drones is flying further with the introduction of a new 16-week drone course.
The course provides an introduction to small unmanned aircraft system operations, safety considerations, regulatory requirements and more. At the end of the course, students will be prepared to take the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft general knowledge test and earn their remote pilot [part 107] certificates.
Ryan Stoddard, Ph.D., the dean of the engineering and sciences division at Rose State College, is the instructor for the course. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and former naval aviator, he holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech.
“A small unmanned aircraft system is useful as a tool because it is an affordable, highly maneuverable, flying HD camera connected to an accurate GPS,” he said. “This makes it valuable for photography, videography, inspections and photogrammetry (mapping) in industries such as construction, agriculture, utilities, surveying, public safety, real estate and marketing.” Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, has also had drones on the brain.
In an effort to promote transparency, Dahm introduced Senate Bill 36, which would make police drone footage accessible through Oklahoma’s Open Records Act if passed. “The law says that bodycam footage and dashcam footage are subject to (the Open Records Act), but drone footage is not,” he said. “Government in general doesn’t like transparency and accountability, whether it’s law enforcement or any other entity of government.”
Drones have been a hot topic in government for several years. In 2022, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 3171, which classified the unlawful use of drones as a misdemeanor offense. Drones are small, hard to trace and cheap to operate. This cocktail of features makes them the perfect platform for bad actors to use for any number of purposes.
For those interested in drones as a hobby, there are multiple ways to inexpensively get involved. Many small aviation clubs dot the state, and many various entry-level drones sell for under $100. However, by law, all recreational flyers must hold a Recreational UAS Safety Test certificate, which is attained by passing an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. Recreational flyers must also have an adequate understanding of flying requirements. If requested by law enforcement or FAA personnel. The TRUST test is free to take and can be found on the FAA website.
The drone industry in Oklahoma is getting noticed. In 2022, George Mason University ranked Oklahoma No. 1 in drone commerce readiness. With wide open skies and the FAA facilities at the heart of the state, Oklahoma is more than prepared to take on the economic changes that the drone market brings.
For states that welcome aerial commerce, adapting to mainstream drone usage could rapidly change the economy and revolutionize many industries. Various home delivery services such as FedEx and UPS have already tested drones for commercial use, but there are also potential agricultural and medical applications on the horizon. Commonly used for photography, land surveying and geo-mapping, drones are also used extensively in the film industry to get previously cost-prohibitive aerial shots.
The growing interest in drones combined with the up-and-coming film industry in Oklahoma have spawned several dedicated drone film companies and even a drone film festival. Already in its third year, the Thunderbird Drone Film Festival is the first of its kind in Oklahoma. The two-day festival is in Woodward and involves an aerial scavenger hunt, an obstacle course and awards show.
In 15 years, drones have gone from a curiosity to a tool with practical application. The rapid advancement in lithium-ion batteries and the increased availability of small microprocessors have played a large role in this booming industry. Oklahoma has become a hotbed for aerial technology innovation largely due to the influence of Tinker Air Force Base and the significant aerospace presence in the state.
To further cement Oklahoma’s aerospace reputation, Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, recently coauthored Senate Bill 942, which would create the Oklahoma Aircraft Engine Testing Development Grant Program to advance aerospace research.
Students interested in Rose State’s introductory drone course can enroll for the fall 2023 semester beginning March 27.