New course teaches drone piloting skills

MAVIC Pro sits on a bench at the Kent State Golf Course on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Students use this type of drone to shoot footage and train with.

Ray Padilla

Students in the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Aerial Camera Ops course walked through the knee-high grass at the now-defunct Kent State Golf Course. The students took out their drones, placing them on any flat surface they could find. The drones spun to life, buzzing, and then lifted into the air. They turned into specks in the sky.

Three students piloted the drones toward a shed to inspect a roof, two others checked storm damage and two searched for associate professor Joe Murray’s lost duck.

The Aerial Camera Ops course is a three-credit-hour class taught by Murray within Kent State’s School of Digital Sciences. Successful students receive a commercial remote certification which allows them to use drones for business-related purposes.  

In short, students learn to fly.

“My goal, really, is to make them commercial drone pilots,” Murray said. “When they complete the course, they can go fly for money.”

The course also prepares them for the written Federal Aviation Administration Remote Pilot Knowledge Exam. Though it is not a requirement to pass the class, students must pass the test to become certified — there is no flight performance requirement.

Murray’s course is open to everyone, as noted on his aerial camera operations website.

Cylina Moravy, a junior digital media production major and former student in the course, found her most memorable experience came when the class went out to Allerton Field to fly the drones 400 feet into the air.

This 400-foot limit is the legal limit as mandated by the the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“(My) first experience flying a drone (was) a little scary because you don’t realize how high your limit is,” Moravy said. “You have a limit of 400 feet, so getting outside and actually getting up that high, it turns into a speck and it’s a little scary.”

Moravy hopes to use the certification to work for real estate companies — a drone can provide panorama photos, exterior footage and details of the available land.

The drone class started in Spring 2017 as a full semester course after Murray received a grant from the Kent State University Foundation. The accelerated three-week course during the intersession began May 22.


People seeking to fly a sUAS (drone) for fun or recreation do not need permission from the FAA, but should proceed with caution. Before flying a drone:

  • Register online if the drone is between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs
  • If outside these parameters, registration must be through the mail
  • Label the drone with the provided registration number
  • Read all the safety guidelines

To register:

  • The person must be 13 years old or older
  • The person must be a U.S. citizen
  • The person must have an email address
  • The must have a credit or debit card
  • Registration, valid for 3 years, costs $5

Safety Guidelines:

  • Do not exceed 400 feet with a drone
  • Keep the drone within view
  • Never fly near airports or other aircrafts
  • Do not fly over people, stadiums or sports events
  • Do not fly near emergency situations like fires
  • Do not fly while intoxicated Know airspace requirements

Information provided by the FAA Fly for Fun page.

Murray will teach the course again in Fall 2017, where it will prepare students to operate Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems safely and ethically when using them for news, research, cinematography, applied digital sciences and taking the FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge Exam.

“Everything you need to know as a pilot is encompassed in the exam — so it’s meteorology, it’s Federal Aviation regulations, it’s aeronautical decision making, safe drone operation,” Murray said. “And then I layer in a lot of concerns that would come from the journalism school … are you basically working as an ethical journalist and cinematographer?”

John Wroblewski, a junior digital media production major, hopes to gain his certification during the intersession course to become a pilot of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. He wants to use his certification to use drones when interning at the San Diego International Film Festival this summer.

“It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Wroblewski said. “Just because drones are a lot easier to pilot than I thought they were, but also because Dr. Murray is a great professor.”

Wroblewski thought it might be difficult to learn new aeronautics terminology in a short amount of time, but he said with the help of Murray, it was easy to understand and he picked it up a lot easier than he expected.

“(Murray) is very understanding,” Moravy said. “Like he knows that you are a person, he’s not just going to be very critical of you, he’s going to try to help you with pretty much anything — he’s really trying to get us jobs — so he cares about what we are doing after the class, not just when we’re in the class.”

During the course, students learn useful information like pilot and operating rules, aeronautical decision making, airspace and aviation weather. A lot of time is spent preparing students for commercial FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge Exam.

Students who earn a 70 percent or higher score will be certified by the FAA to act as the remote pilot-in-command according to the Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Guide. The test comprises 60 questions within a two-hour time limit. All 15 students in the Spring 2017 class passed the exam and are now commercial sUAS pilots.

“I definitely think (the class) prepared us because we took seven weeks to study for that test,” Moravy said. “So the main part of the class was just studying and we would go through practice quizzes and all these practice questions and you kind of have to learn how the questions are asked, so you kind of get in the head of the FAA.”

Once the students learned everything for the test, the rest of the class spent its time putting their acquired knowledge to practice by going out to the Field House, Allerton Field or the Kent State Golf Course to fly the drones.

Going out and using a drone is beneficial to know before taking the exam, Moravy said, because it allows students to get a feel for how it works in relation the the weather. It’s like muscle memory, she said.

“You can sit in class and talk about how wind is going to push it over, but if you’re not sitting with that controller and the drone in the air, you’re not really feeling it,” Moravy said. “If you go out in 10 mile-hour wind, you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s not bad, right? It’s not pushing me over,’ but your drone is like flying sideways.”

There are many programs that offer the same type of class to prepare students for the FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge exam online, but they do not have the same added benefits as the one at Kent State, Murray said.

“One of the things I think I’m approaching perhaps a little differently than some of the online operations and training that have cropped up,” Murray said. “There’s online courses that will teach you how to pass the FAA exam. Weirdly, you could do that without ever flying a drone, and I don’t think that’s a responsible thing to do.”

Ray Padilla is the academics reporter, contact him at [email protected].