Back to the Future

 Back to the Future

Drones may help Dayton take the lead again in the aviation industry.

Eric Spangler

Andrew Shepherd reaches in his pocket and pulls out a set of keys. He finds the one he’s looking for, inserts it into the handle, twists it and opens the door.

Shepherd, director of the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) at Sinclair College, quickly points out the major components within each room during a tour of the renovated first floor of Building 13 at the college, which now contains the National UAS Training and Certification Center.

A wind tunnel fills one room. A jet engine fills another. Computers and joysticks fill yet another room. But one locked door unveils the centerpiece of this new facility. High-tech machine tools are ready to create any design for a new propeller or a new fuselage to an unmanned aerial system—what most people commonly know as drones.

Next to them are 3-D printers that can also create any part imaginable from a digital file by laying down successive layers of materials until the final object is completed.

The high-tech machine tools and 3-D printers anchor the rear of this main room that houses drones ranging from fixed-wing airplanes the size of a large desk to small quad copters powered by four tiny engines that turn propellers that point skyward.

It’s where students will learn how to design, build, manufacture, maintain and, yes, fly drones.

And it’s where many see the future of a booming new industry of aviation in the Dayton region.

“We have this unique experience here in the region where aviation is such a big part of what Dayton is,” says Shepherd. “It’s exciting being able to integrate what we know from this really long legacy of innovation and aviation and really develop a completely new industry that benefits so many other areas.” 

The National UAS Training and Certification Center is part of the college’s $5 million capital project that renovated 28,000 square feet of Building 13 and is now in the process of completing the school’s second indoor flight facility for testing and demonstrating drones. That facility, known as the UAS Indoor Flying Pavilion, will feature 3,200 square feet of flying space, 40-feet tall ceilings and indoor Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) access.

The new facilities complement the school’s educational curriculum, which includes a certificate and degree track along with a noncredit workforce development component, says Shepherd.

The school’s certificate and degree track focuses on what employers are currently seeking in workers with the skills they need in three main areas of drone usage—geospatial information, precision agriculture and first-responders, Shepherd says.

If employers and jobs are driving what the school is currently teaching students, the need for people with skills in the area of drone technology is only expected to increase exponentially.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that by 2025 drones could create 2,700 jobs and have a $2.1 billion impact in the state of Ohio. Nationally, the group predicts 100,000 U.S. jobs, with an economic impact of $82 billion.

Shepherd says he’s already seeing the impact of having students trained in drone technology. “We’ve had a lot of students recently that have been hired out of our programs while they’re still in classes,” he says. “That’s great for them, but then I’m like, ‘Hey, you have to finish your classes!’”

One area of the drone industry that has created jobs is on the retail side. Jay Day sells drones from his business called Dayton Drones at two locations: his original booth at Traders World, near Monroe, and his newest store at the Dayton Mall. He also plans to open a store at Fairfield Commons.

Day became interested in drones as a hobby because as a kid he had in interest in radio-controlled toys. He built his first drone a little more than three years ago. “I loved it so much I took it to another level,” Day says.

Although he sells a variety of drones at all his locations, Day says the Internet market dominates the retail side of drone sales. “What we do good on is teaching people to fly, training them, working on them and things like that,” says Day.

Another entrepreneur catering to teaching drone hobbyists how to fly drones safely is Wendell Adkins, owner of Drones that Work LLC, who recently conducted his first Drone Safe Academy.

“As more and more people are buying these [drones], and they’re being sold by the hundreds of thousands now, there are so many people that don’t have any idea—I mean zero idea—of how to operate them safely,” says Adkins. “So this class is kind of a safety awareness effort to try to share our experience with them on how to do it and have fun, but stay out of trouble.” 

One drone hobbyist who is having fun is photographer Andy Snow. He uses drones to take pictures and videos of the city’s changing skyline. “I’ve always been a documentarian,” says Snow. “I’ve always had projects that involved documenting what’s out there.”

Drones equipped with cameras have enabled him to take his passion to another level.

“What I’m doing, really, is photographing the community along the river, especially in Dayton, and … just the change that’s going on,” says Snow. “That’s what I do. It’s the kind of projects that I love to do.”

He plans to hang on to those photos until the Federal Aviation Administration releases final rules on the use of drones. Currently he can’t sell his photos taken from a drone because that would be considered a commercial activity, which is banned by the FAA without an exemption.

Until then he’s OK just having fun using drones to unlock his artistic potential. “Bottom line is this is what I do, I’m an artist, I can’t help it, I can’t help myself,” says Snow. “I’m not chasing money, I don’t need to chase money. This is what I like doing. And it gets me outside.” 

And no key is needed to the great outdoors. A drone will do just fine.