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Ithaca College Drone Squadron Takes Flight

An entire community has emerged around drones and drone flying over the past decade. Hobbyists and professionals alike share their fondness for this tech, with many taking to the skies to capture cinematic scenes and shots that mesmerize viewers. 

On South Hill, the Ithaca College Drone Squadron seeks to educate students about the world of drones. 

“Our goal is to teach people,” IC Drone Squadron President Keegan Webber said. “[To] teach them safety, teach them how to fly, teach them about aerial videography work and how to have fun.”

Members of the IC Drone Squadron e-board operate their DJI Inspire 2 drone. The drone has self-heating technology that allows it to fly in low temperatures and a maximum fly time of 27 minutes.
Members of the IC Drone Squadron e-board operate their DJI Inspire 2 drone. The drone has self-heating technology that allows it to fly in low temperatures and a maximum fly time of 27 minutes.

Every semester, the Squadron offers at least one workshop to help prepare students for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone pilot licensing test. After becoming licensed, pilots can fly commercially.

“We’ll probably do it again in the spring,” Webber said. 

IC Drone Squadron held their last “fly day” of the semester on Saturday, Dec. 4. Webber told Ithaca Week that the club is slated to become a co-curricular organization this year and, as a result, may receive funding from the Roy H. Park School of Communications. They received a grant from an undisclosed donor in 2021 and put the funding toward their DJI Inspire 2 — a cinematic drone that costs upwards of $3,299. The DJI Inspire 2 is capable of shooting at 6K and requires two drone pilots to operate (one person flies the drone and the other controls the camera). Other drones are also available, and anyone who attends the Squadron’s fly days can get hands-on experience with the equipment. 

“We also do FPV workshops,” Webber said. “FPV is first-person-view. It’s a little bit different [from] drone flying — you wear goggles and it kind of feels like you’re in the pilot seat of the drone.” 

Part of the fun of FPV is that hobbyists get to build their own drones. Jared Soto, a technician/engineer with IC Drone Squadron, said that he developed an interest in FPV last year after watching JohnnyFPV — a popular FPV cinematographer — on YouTube. 

“I bought some parts and just started workshopping it in my basement for months and months just trying to figure out how to put it together. Once it finally clicked, I was hooked on it,” Soto said. “It’s been really fun to be able to bring that over here and start… getting more people excited about it.” 

Next semester, IC Drone Squadron plans on hosting interactive workshops where people can work on FPV equipment and learn more about it. 

Having a drone license can be an asset to students who are planning on entering the media industry. For Soto, drone flying is more of a hobby than a career aspiration. 

DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 drone has a dual battery system and several flight modes.

“I don’t know if I could see myself getting into it specifically as a career, but it’s definitely something that is a beneficial skill to have,” Soto said. “Especially with, like, a lot of companies and internships — being able to work your way around drones is a really useful skill.” 

Alisha Tamarchenko graduated from the College in 2020. During her sophomore year, she attended an IC Drone Squadron workshop and eventually became a licensed drone pilot. Tamarchenko said that the license has made her more marketable. 

“In my experience, [being licensed] has been very useful when I’ve been applying to jobs,” she said. “I loved learning more about the whole process.”

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