February 23, 2017

CARTERVILLE — Robert Craig took John A. Logan College to new heights Tuesday as he flew a drone over campus, giving flight to a new area of study that is taking the nation by storm.

Craig, the College’s electronics and engineer technology instructor, also discussed how far technology has come since the College’s creation 50 years ago.

“The idea of what we are doing today would have been pure science fiction 50 years ago,” Craig said. “For instance, in an electronics class here 50 years ago, students would be discussing how color television works. That was a major subject because in 1967, only 25 percent of American households had a color television.”

About a dozen students and drone enthusiasts gathered with Craig near the life-sized statue of General John A. Logan Tuesday to launch the first official drone flight in the College’s history.

“It’s possible that someone who lives close by could have flown a drone over some part of the campus, but today’s flight is the first official flight associated with the College and the classroom,” Craig explained.

Craig is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified as an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or more commonly known as drone) pilot.

As an electronics instructor, he also has vast knowledge of the inner-workings of a drone and how to repair them.

“As drones become more and more popular — and that is happening as we speak — there will be a big job market in drone modifications and repair,” Craig said. “Too many times, drone operators don’t steer clear of trees,” he explained.

Craig began Tuesday’s flight by contacting air traffic control at the Williamson County Airport. According to federal law, if a drone operator is within five miles of an airport, that airport must be contacted.

After being cleared to take flight, Craig’s drone, a DJI Phantom 4 camera drone, was powered up. The small square-shaped unmanned aircraft, armed with a high-resolution still and video camera, lifted into the air. Craig and others could see everything the camera was seeing from Craig’s Android phone, which was also being used to control the drone and the camera.

Craig was in full control of how high the drone would fly and in what directions. Craig’s drone has the ability to fly 19,685 feet above sea level — but limited by the FAA to 400 feet above ground level — and travel 55 miles per hour. When he wanted, he took video or photographs.

Simply put, what students and enthusiasts were experiencing Tuesday is the next big thing in aviation, Craig pointed out.

Not only are drones an exciting hobby for those who own them, they are also very powerful tools on the farm or used for search and rescue, marketing, and the list goes on and on, Craig said.

Back inside the College, during a classroom discussion, Craig used a Powerpoint presentation to overview the history of drones and what the future holds for unmanned aviation.

He also discussed what the future may hold for drone education on campus.

“We are looking in to the possibility of a community education course or workshops,” Craig said. “As the popularity of drones grows in Southern Illinois, so will the need to understand how to operate and repair them.”

Technology, as a whole, continues to explode worldwide, Craig explained. And in the midst of that, John A. Logan College continues to be on the cutting edge of keeping up with changes and teaching the things that currently matter most.

Other instructors also foresee coming changes due to technology. For instance, Devin Miller, John A. Logan College photography instructor, is looking ahead to the future projecting for those who will be interested in drone photography. However, at present, Miller points out that good photography has basic principles “whether on the ground or 400 feet above the earth."