Unmanned aerial systems class takes off

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Purdue Aviation Technology students are learning how to fly and operate unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as UAVs or drones, in a class offered for the first time this semester.

Associate Professor in Aviation Technology Mike Leasure started the class this year after operating UAVs for the past ten years.

“I wanted to share with them [students] what I was doing. I couldn’t find a way to do it safely and legally and what happened was the technology developed to the point where I could fly indoors and replicate what was happening outdoors very accurately,” said Leasure.

He said unlike your average remote controlled helicopter, the difficulty is in the details of getting the technology to fly autonomously.

“The big difference is when you take the step to autonomous flight which is automatic, auto pilot guided flight. It uses a GPS to locate its position on the earth, uses a stabilization system to actually fly the airplane,” said Leasure

Leasure has students start by using simulators and then manually control the flight of the aircraft. He then introduces shooting video and still photos, giving the controller a first-person-view flight experience. Sophomore Nick Weddle controlled a flight with his back turned to the device in flight during Wednesday evening’s class. He noted that it was a bit awkward to use an iPad to guide the chopper as opposed to a manual transmitter but said it has its’ advantages.

“I was using the camera which was giving me live feed at the time and basically I can control it through both tilting it directions and there’s some finger inputs you can use to get it to rotate actually around,” said Weddle.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to issue guidelines for operation of drones for commercial purposes in 2015. Leasure said this is exactly why the class was needed now.

“We need to be in that position to have students that understand from all the way from simulators, all the way to working with auto pilots and ground stations and actually implementing this technology,” said Leasure.

Weddle said the growth and interest in is no surprise to him

“It will become a more widespread thing because so many people find flight fascinating. People have always been interested in flight.” said Weddle.

He said he hopes to use the knowledge gained as a gateway to bigger and better opportunities.

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