Trinidad State Drone Pilot Program provides new opportunities for Valley residents
Valley Campus / December 4, 2020 / By Margaret Sanderson
Inspiration met opportunity when “Valley” girl Zoey Woodworth heard about the new Drone Pilot Program at Trinidad State. With 12 years of experience in photography and videography, it made sense to get a camera into the air. “I’ve always wanted to get into the aviation world and this is a great first step,” said Woodworth.
“These pilots are going to be stewards of air space,” said Dr. Evert Brown who teaches the program. “Our students are going to know the rules and the ethics. They will know when and where to fly. We’re building a cohort of pilots that truly are professionals.” In the industry drone flying is known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS.
The class has been using either the Mavic 2 Zoom or Mavic 2 Pro rotary drones. These drones can carry up to one pound of weight. The program does have a larger rotary drone, the Matrice 600 Pro, valued at $10,000 often referred to by the students as “The Beast!” that drone can carry up to 13 pounds and can be fitted with high quality cameras other than the one it comes with. It can have both a dedicated pilot and a dedicated camera operator using separate controls which is effective for movie filming. It has six motors versus four in the Mavic models. “The Beast’“ stands about two feet tall. The program also has a 2.4 pound fixed-wing drone made of Styrofoam with a wingspan of 43 inches. Fixed-wing drones can fly longer and collect more data than rotary wing units, making them more suitable for agricultural surveys.
In comparing notes with his friend in Arizona, who is studying aeronautical engineering, Zach Velasquez said, “This (drone class) is basic to what he is getting.” Woodworth agreed saying, “Easily more than half of all I have learned is applicable to all aircraft.” Velasquez, an Antonito High School graduate, with a long-standing interest in being a pilot, wants to build a career using drones. “For me, drones are not just a toy anymore,” said Adrian Jaramillo. Drones, also called unmanned aircraft, are a step up from the robotics and remote-control cars he has enjoyed. “By joining the class, it has enlightened me about drones and how to be professional with them,” Jaramillo said. He is considering a delivery service. Some big companies already experimenting with drone delivery are Amazon, Walmart, Walgreens and Uber Eats.
Current uses of drones include: showing property layouts, doing wild life surveys, gathering forest measurements, monitoring vegetation in fields as well as monitoring forest fires and our borders, checking pipelines, surveying accident scenes, aiding search and rescue efforts, inspections on solar panels and cell towers, doing scientific research and doing fly-by scenes in movies. Retired pharmacist, Lou DeInnocentes, who moved to the Valley seven years ago and is taking the class, thinks drones could be used to deliver COVID test kits.
The San Luis Valley is the perfect place for this kind of program because of wide open spaces and an Unmanned Aircraft Systems test site designation from the Federal Aviation Administration granted in 2015.
With two remote pilots in the class licensed already and five more in the process, the drone flying class at Trinidad State is off to a great start. Tim Snyder, a local store owner, is one of those pilots. Snyder has been a private pilot for 45 years and he was interested in learning about drones to investigate the possibility of a sideline business after he retires. With his extensive background in construction, roof inspections using drones is one possibility he is considering.
Woodworth 31, is the other pilot. Born and raised in Alamosa, she has already formed her own drone flying company. “I realized I could carry over some of my skills in photography and videography and add that aerial element to them. And I found a niche that really hasn’t been filled here in the Valley,” said Woodworth. Her first was purely a hobby drone, but her latest features an optical zoom that preserves the quality of close-up pictures. It adds depth and can vary the placement of backgrounds and foregrounds.
After earning her remote pilot’s license, Woodworth’s first job was for a local real estate company. The owner was so impressed he called to express his appreciation. This provided her with the incentive and the courage to begin her own business. “There’s something special about building your own business from the ground up,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be doing the kind of work with drones that I’m doing right now.” It has given her the opportunity to work in the aviation field and has allowed flexibility with her schedule. Recently she did a photo shoot for the residential expansion near Cattails Golf Course and one of the Rio Grande Farm Park for the SLV Local Foods Coalition, a non-profit project, for which she donated her work. The Rio Grande Farm Park, located at 6935 State St. in Alamosa, is a community park that “fosters local food production and sales, healthy living practices and local arts and culture.”
To date Woodworth has taken over 2,500 aerial pictures, some of which can be seen on her Facebook page at Woodworth Drone Photography.
“My work has only gotten better,” she said. “I’m just grateful that I had this opportunity, that TSJC decided this was a program worth investing in. And that we had a professor who had some experience in aviation and has this passion he can share with his students.” From high school graduate to a retired pharmacist and everything in between, this eclectic group is busy brainstorming about the kinds of drone flying careers they want to pursue. “We have such a diverse group of people that have all come together with this common interest.”
“It’s so new,” said Woodworth. “We are probably considered the first wave of pilots to get up in the skies. And what we do moving forward will reflect on the entire industry and how we present ourselves.”
For specifics about the next drone course, starting January 19, and about certification, contact Dr. Evert Brown at 719-589-7065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.