Drone piloting course takes off

LMC’s program is looking to grow after a strong first semester.


Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Miller

Matthew Tanner operates his drone on the the LMC football field.

Jaden Fortier, Staff Writer

After its successful first year, Los Medanos College’s fairly new Drone Piloting program is starting to put everyone on notice and is hoping to excel even further in 2022.

Spring 2022 enrollment for this program was up 10% from the fall pilot said the Manager of Workforce and Economic Development Bill Bankhead.

The program has had a positive impact on students in the short time it’s been around and as Bankhead said, “students are more successful than the college average.”

LMC student Steven Romero has been taking the class since the program began last fall and had no idea how to use a drone beforehand but has since improved. 

“I was very worried about flying these before,” said Romero. “After a while you get used to it.”

Taking classes in the Drone Piloting Program can be beneficial to people in their individual careers and can be its own full-time job. Cassie Dickman, a student and print journalist working toward her Master’s in journalism, took the courses to give herself an advantage that broadcast journalists have had for a long time. The Drone Piloting Program courses allow her to get those good shots journalists on television and radio have had access to for many years.

“Broadcast journalists always had an advantage in getting aerial shots from helicopters,” she said. 

Dickman also had no prior experience of using a drone before enrolling in DRONE-012N, and this course developed her skills in drone piloting so that she isn’t crashing drones.

The Drone Piloting program features three noncredit courses; DRONE-010N, DRONE-012N and DRONE-014N. Since the courses are noncredit, they don’t count toward an associates degree but they are free-no tuition fees and are not graded. DRONE-012N and DRONE-014N focus on the hands-on aspect of manning a drone, while DRONE-010N focuses on preparing students for their Federal Aviation Administration’s drone knowledge test.

Preparing students for that test aids them in earning their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Series 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, the commercial driver license for drones.

Originally, the program was supposed to debut during the Fall 2020 semester but Bankhead said they didn’t want to start an in-person class during the COVID restrictions, so the courses started in fall 2021 when the college campus officially reopened.

Bankhead, who also administers some of the grants that are funding the startup of the program, said LMC agreed to commit $35,000 from the California Strong Workforce Program grant so that commercial drones could be purchased for student use.

“LMC has requested an additional $28,000 of federal Perkins grant funds to upgrade our fleet even more,” he said.

While Bankhead plays a major role in administering money, he said instructor Jeffrey Miller is the true “heart, soul and content of the program.”

Miller is the instructor for both DRONE-010N and DRONE-012N, teaching online for most of the week and in person on Fridays at the LMC Pittsburg campus. Miller said the program is starting to get the word out about its existence, forming relationships with key departments at LMC and with partners in the drone piloting industry.

Students originally enrolled in the drone piloting courses by mistake, not aware of their existence at the time.

“A lot of people signed up on accident, not knowing it was available,” Miller said.

The majority of people who take this course have never operated a drone before, and Miller’s favorite part about teaching the class is seeing the progress that students make over the semester. 

Students taking DRONE-012N can expect to learn how to fly drones and capture and develop professional aerial photography shots. Everyone gets a DJI Mini 2 to use, a standard drone. Students are also able to purchase their own drones if they want, but it is not required. If you are interested in learning more about the Drone Piloting Program visit the Drone Piloting Program home page. For additional information contact Jeffrey Miller at je[email protected] and Bill Bankhead at [email protected].