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Drones deployed at AOPA homecoming

Mapping workshop, exhibits

Great Lakes Drone Company CEO Matt Quinn waited as long as he could as one storm after another rolled through Frederick, Maryland, before calling off the custom-choreographed show crafted in honor of AOPA’s eightieth anniversary. A few miles southwest, members who signed up for a DARTdrones workshop managed to get some mapping practice between storms.

A DARTdrones DJI Phantom 4 lifts off to begin a mapping run on May 11 during a DARTdrones workshop that included classroom and hands-on learning. Photo by Jim Moore.

Quinn's Michigan company, a pioneer and still among very few operators authorized by the FAA to fly dozens of drones at a time for entertainment, brought his newly upgraded fleet of LED-toting drones to Frederick for the first AOPA Fly-In of 2019, with a very special show programmed to mark the association’s big milestone. The 80-drone show required hours of setup time and equipment checks, and a series of storms, some of which dumped rain at rates exceeding 3 inches an hour, forced Quinn to make an agonizing call just before 6:30 p.m. on May 10, the last possible minute given the need to have time to get the show set up. 

Eight students who signed up (at a discount) for the DARTdrones mapping and modeling workshop had better luck. DARTdrones Chief Flight Instructor Colin Romberger adjusted the schedule a bit to find a flyable gap in the weather and transition from the classroom portion inside AOPA headquarters to a farm a few miles southwest where students took turns flying to capture images used to build maps and 3-D models.

Engineer Michael Whitcomb, left, consults with his teammate, retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Shelby Goudy, during a mapping exercise led by DARTdrones Chief Flight Instructor Colin Romberger (background) on May 11. The mapping and modeling workshop included classroom sessions at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, and hands-on flight training at a farm a few miles southwest, outside of controlled airspace. Photo by Jim Moore.“This hands-on is really important,” said Michael Whitcomb, an AOPA member since the 1980s who holds remote pilot and airline transport pilot certificates, and works as an engineer at Montgomery College. “I’d like to see AOPA do more of these.”

Fellow workshop participant Robert Verret of Louisiana works in the oil and gas industry, and is looking to build a business of his own around drones.

“I’m getting a lot out of it,” Verret said on the second day of the workshop as he and fellow students made another series of flights over the farm a few miles from Frederick. He and other students came in with Part 107 certificates, but much to learn about what drones can deliver. Verret said the workshop organized by AOPA (and among many benefits offered to AOPA members with an interest in drones) was the third DARTdrones class he had taken since seeing the company featured on the television series Shark Tank.

Downpours like this one on May 10 dumped more than 4 inches of rain on Frederick Municipal Airport, canceling the drone light show. Photo by Jim Moore.

While the workshop participants got their thumbs on control sticks and learned the fine points of data capture and analysis, back in Frederick, Quinn and his crew waited in vain for a break in the rain long enough to get the show in the air. While unable to fly, they stuck around May 11 to exhibit the drones and field questions about the technology. Quinn said AOPA will get a makeup show at some point, and set his sights on the next events on the company schedule, including the AOPA Fly-In June 21 and 22 in Livermore, California, which will now feature the debut of the commemorative drone light show, with another display to follow at the final AOPA Fly-In of the year Sept. 13 and 14 in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Quinn’s crew was not alone displaying unmanned aircraft among the exhibitors: Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing members had a Cessna set up with a display table under one wing, and on that table was one of the 1,300 DJI Phantom 4 drones recently acquired for wings across the country. Officers and cadets are currently training to deploy the drones for missions including bridge inspection that are more easily and efficiently accomplished using the new technology.

Civil Air Patrol officers Craig Kuhn, left, and Howard Hampson included one of the Maryland Wing’s new DJI Phantom 4 quadcopters at the AOPA Fly-In. CAP pilots nationwide are training to integrate unmanned aircraft in various operations. Photo by Jim Moore.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.

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