McKinney soars with drone education

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Victoria man gets to see the world in a different way than most.

With the help of a DJI Phantom Drone, Zachary McKinney uses a remote control to guide the impressive machine to great heights, getting an enviable view of nearby sites.

“Drones are going to be the future of aviation” McKinney said. “That’s just something that’s going to happen … Things are changing rapidly in that field.”

He uses his credentials as a Federal Aviation Association (FAA)-licensed pilot for remote drones  to teach others to fly drones responsibly and inspire young people to pursue cutting-edge aviation know-how.

His interest in drones was a natural result of his being fascinated by space and aeronautics, and his interest in aviation and flight led him to researching different models online a few years ago and eventually purchasing one, McKinney said.

His largest model, DJI Phantom 3, has a camera installed inside of the machine.

In the years that followed, he has purchased several more drones, and shares his enthusiasm with organizations and young people in the Heart of Virginia.

McKinney taught the first day camp for flying drones at the Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) Daniel Campus.

He said the camp, which lasted from 9 a.m.-noon, had two students participate. The students brought their own drones, and they used remote controls to take flights inside the SVCC Workforce Building’s multipurpose room.

“I was still really glad to see (the participants)” McKinney said, “because it shows there’s an interest in drones and aviation in Southside Virginia. That’s a great thing happening.”

During the camp, McKinney said he informed them about FAA regulations involving drones, safety tips on flying and controlling the drones and even letting the students master what they learned by making an obstacle course for them using hula hoops among other objects.

McKinney’s class was among several camp activities offered by the Daniel campus for the first time this summer. Other camps focused on painting, lego robotics and chemistry experiments.

“I thought it was truly an honor to be able to do the first camp with them and promote the drones,” McKinney said.

He is also a member of the Civil Air Patrol chapter in Blackstone, a nonprofit that focuses on aviation education for cadets, youth ages 12-18.

McKinney said he and the cadets have assembled a drone of their own using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) kits, containing activities that use skills in those fields.

“Last year, we received a STEM kit where we built our own drone,” McKinney said. “I mean, this thing was (made) with pieces of wood and a cardboard box. But hey, it flies.” He added that he and the other members of the patrol jokingly referred to the drone as a “flying pizza box.”

“It’s a great teaching tool because people learn how this works and how to build,” McKinney said.

The questions discussed at both programs, McKinney said, is how, and why, flight takes place.

As technology in aviation rapidly changes, he continues to work to educate youth in the community in building their enthusiasm for flight.