And we’re baaack….

We’ve been really, really bad about posting here, and that’s going to change.

Here’s some quick updates and a little bit on what to expect in this space in the coming months.

New approach to the drone class

We’ve changed around how we teach the drone class at the School of Journalism. The class had been taught as a survey of drone applications inside and outside journalism. Then the FAA changed its rules and began to certify drone operators who did not have private pilot credentials. We expanded the class from 10 weeks to 15 weeks and turned the first half of the class into Drone Ground School — 8 weeks of instruction towards the FAA Section 107 test. This would, we believe, create a core of safe, responsible and knowledgeable student drone operators. And that’s what this is about: What good is it know how to shoot aerial photos or video if you can’t do safely or legally? Our students are still flying under supervision each week in flight labs — its just now they’re doing it with as much “why” as “how.”

We’re looking to take the knowledge that we’re gaining here and bring it into working newsrooms and classrooms.

New drones

We’ve expanded our drone fleet. And we’ve started a new tradition.

Students are flying DJI Phantom 4 Pro drones, which are becoming the most common entry-level drones for professional use (we’re using the Pro+ variant, if you’re really into these things).

We’ve also acquired a DJI Inspire 2¬†with a Zenmuse X4S camera to do more complicated video work. The drone has the capability to have a flight controller and camera controller. We think it’s a great option for students who may want to direct the photography of a project but haven’t had the time or training to learn how to pilot the drone; they can pair with a certified pilot and get some experience.

About the new tradition: We’ve started naming the drones. We wanted names that reflect Missouri’s rich aviation history, so each drone has a Missouri-themed name. Our Phantoms are The Spirit of James McDonnell (named after the co-founder of St. Louis-based McDonnell-Douglas) and The Spirit of Wendell Pruitt (named after St. Louis native and Tuskegee Airman Capt. Wendell Pruitt). We call them “The Spirit of…” as a nod to both Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” but also to acknowledge B-2 Spirit bombers based at Whiteman Air Force Base an hour down Interstate 70 near Sedalia.¬† Our Inspire 2 is named The Linda Godwin (after Cape Girardeau/Jackson native, MU physics professor and astronaut Linda Godwin, who is a veteran of four Space Shuttle missions and has spent 10 hours spacewalking).

“The Flying Tiger,” our tiger-striped Inspire 1, is still around, as well. We’re using it as an advanced trainer.

New staff
Missouri Drone Journalism’s co-founder, Rick Shaw, has moved on to the University of Florida. Bill Allen, the other co-founder, is enjoying retirement. Judd Slivka, an assistant professor in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Convergence area is the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s new Director of Aerial Journalism.

Looking forward…

We’ve been hard at work on some projects here while we’ve been radio-silent. Here’s some of what you’ll see posted in the coming months:

— Simple training videos for basic cinematic movements.

— Tips, hints and tricks for teaching drone usage to new, low-flight time fliers. such as that videographer you just hired who thinks “drones are cool” but has never flown one. Or students.

— A ‘policy in a box’ project so that newsrooms can spend less time developing mission guidance and more time using drones.

— A high-school drone journalism curriculum.

Interested? Have requests? Want to suggest a name for the next drone we acquire? Drop us a line here.