Anoka-Hennepin to offer drones course next year

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

After two years of work, a drones class appears to finally be getting off of the ground in Anoka-Hennepin.

Peter Groebner gets ready to fly an ELEV-8 drone. He believes the drone is too big and powerful for his students, and he is still looking for more suitable drones to use in class. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Peter Groebner gets ready to fly an ELEV-8 drone. He believes the drone is too big and powerful for his students, and he is still looking for more suitable drones to use in class. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

At the urging of Associate Superintendent Jeff McGonigal, Secondary Technical Education Program aviation and engineering instructor Peter Groebner began looking into what a course focused on drones might be like.

“I was a little bit skeptical of it,” said Groebner, who is a licensed pilot and worked as an airline pilot until he was laid off following 9/11.

“(Drones) rolled out as a toy,” Groebner said. “Now they’re becoming a more regulated tool.”

Groebner acquired his commercial drone pilot license this summer in order to teach a drones course at STEP.

One year ago, the Federal Aviation Administration began requiring anyone who is compensated for their work flying drones to have a commercial drone pilot license.

Drones are used commercially in agriculture, construction, real estate and countless other fields.

Drones provide “a much more versatile way to conduct most of the inspections we take for granted,” Groebner said.

The job possibilities are endless, and the demand for labor is great.

“There aren’t too many people out there to hire” who hold appropriate licenses, according to Groebner.

While taking a class isn’t necessary to obtain one’s license, the written test administered by the FAA is not easy, Groebner said.

“It’s really very much like the private pilot’s written test,” he said. “It’s actually pretty intense.”

The new Anoka-Hennepin class, unmanned aerial systems ground school and lab, will aim to prepare students for the test and allow them to earn college credit through concurrent enrollment at Northland Community and Technical College.

Students will assemble and program drones using Arduino software, as well as manually fly them.

Groebner is still researching which drones will be best for classroom use, as the one originally recommended to him, the ELEV-8, is “way too big and too powerful,” he said.

Groebner does not know of any other secondary school offering a drones-specific course at this time.

Drones cost money, but STEP is fortunate to qualify for Carl D. Perkins federal grant dollars. The school has not yet spent a dime on drones, STEP Director Jessica Lipa said.

Registration for the course won’t occur until winter, but students have expressed interest in the class, particularly Groebner’s former students, according to Lipa.

Peter Groebner flies a mini drone with first-person view capabilities. Groebner is designing an unmanned aerial systems course at STEP for the 2018-2019 school year. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Peter Groebner flies a mini drone with first-person view capabilities. Groebner is designing an unmanned aerial systems course at STEP for the 2018-2019 school year. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

STEP’s most popular courses prepare students for careers in cosmetology and the medical profession, but “our manufacturing has started to grow, as has aviation,” Lipa said.

“This generation, the kids are so savvy in the physical flight portion – probably because of Xbox,” Groebner said.

But there is still a lot to learn about airspace, meteorology, various regulations and more.

The course will be a two-period, one-trimester offering open to sophomores, juniors and seniors in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Students must be 14 or older to earn their unmanned aerial systems certification.

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