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Screenshot grabbed from live video of drone smashing a wall of Monster Energy cans on Friday, April 4 in the Dunn Bowl. CREDIT: DOUG CATTELIER

Drone Club flies onto the mapping radar

Perhaps there is no place on campus more welcoming to “letting your geek flag fly” than the Geographic Information Systems Center. Inside this somewhat non-descript satellite office, located at the bottom of Forbes Avenue on the corner of Second Avenue, curious folks with a head for trial and error and a heart for adventure will discover kindred spirits who want to share their toys with you and go outside to play.

The GIS Center is home to lots of innovative and fun technologies, but none fly as high as their Drone program. And with the academic year coming to a close, they are letting them fly.

Douglas Catellier, Project Manager at the Center and a licensed 107 Unmanned Air Vehicle pilot, flies drones commercially and trains APSU students to do the same. Catellier supervised a student pilot just last week.  “We completed a comprehensive aerial survey of the APSU Farm, all 85 acres, in about 25 minutes.”

Justin Harrah, incoming Treasurer of the Drone Club at APSU, models virtual reality goggles used to pilot the drones. SEAN SIPLE | THE ALL STATE

In the past few years, while the drone program at GIS has continued to grow, Catellier said he has visited every school on campus and offered to let them use the drones for interdisciplinary projects. So far, “No one has taken me up on my offer. But I am serious. They are here for our students to use.”

And it seems like, for the whole month of April, the Drone Club at APSU is really making an effort to stop flying under the radar and put on a show.

Last Friday, in the Dunn Bowl (the field beside to the sand volleyball courts), drone pilots were smashing their speeding toys into a pyramid of Monster Energy cans and making videos of the game from two airborne and three stationary GoPro cameras. For effect, they had the drone carry an ignited smoke bomb that looked to the pilot, Mike Hunter, “like a sparkling unicorn flying across the field.”

President Mike Hunter, plays with his aircraft as he readies himself to compete in the Collegiate national on April 13-14. SEAN SIPLE | THE ALL STATE

Hunter, who is president of the APSU Drone Club, is headed to the Collegiate Drone Racing Association National Championships in North Dakota next weekend. The flight practice outside the Dunn was part preparation for the upcoming competition and part production of a promotional video made to deliver to one of the club’s sponsors, Coca Cola. See the video for a full calendar of Drone Club Events.

This past Monday, April 8, the GIS Center hosted an open house. Curiosity seekers were treated to an impressive collection of drones, a 3D printer that is sometimes used to make replacement propellers, a drone simulator training station and rendering software that can compile 3D images from the shots gathered by the 360 cameras that look like R2-D2 sticking out of the Millennial Falcon. And, of course, they have a miniature Millennial Falcon.

For new pilots of all ages, the fleet includes “Sparks” that have some stabilizing software to help keep them level and airborne. These starter drones are ruggedly designed to withstand the punishment of inexperience. 

“They let me use them and I crash them all the time. Everybody crashes them. It’s how we learn,” Rachael Perkins, Secretary to the Club, said.

If students think they may want to fly a drone, the Center has a simulator where students can practice running race courses and perfect their landing skills. If a person were to desire a more hands-on experience, all are invited to attend the Public Air demonstration scheduled for Saturday, April 20 at noon at the Wilma Rudolph Event Center on Cumberland Drive. There one can get their hands on the radio controller and try piloting in real life.

So go ahead, throw caution to the wind and let ‘er fly.

About Sean Siple

Happy grandfather paying attention to my bucket list and living my best life at home and out in the world.

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