First drone pilot graduates bring expertise to southern IL agriculture

First drone pilot graduates bring expertise to southern IL agriculture

(KFVS) - Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems, are on the threshold of making a big impact in a number of industries, and none less vital to southern Illinois than agriculture.

Of the dozen graduates in Rend Lake College's first UAS program, two standouts are employing their experience on the farm.

Jody Braden, a crop adjuster from McLeansboro, said the program was recommended to her by her employer because of the opportunities a UAS can offer.

As an adjuster, Braden travels to farms and other agricultural properties to valuate claims for an insurance company.

"[Certification] is going to be useful as drones are up and coming. It's beneficial to me and my company to have this under my belt," said Braden. "It's such a better view from the air. You can see hail damage, wind damage, chemical overspray, bug problems, drought damage, or anything else. Instead of having to walk, you can fly over and cover the field more accurately to see where the problems are. The difference is walking four fields a day to flying over 20 fields in a day."

Not only will the drone assist Braden with her productivity on the job, it will also help the farmer by default.

Braden had no prior experience with UASs before registering for RLC's program last spring.

When the Federal Aviation Administration UAS pilot certification becomes available at the end of August, Braden said she plans to sit for the exam and begin using a UAS at work.

Fellow classmate Jake Carter encouraged farmers and other agriculturists to see the "endless possibilities" a UAS can provide.

"It really is a great tool to have. Farming is a big deal, and the technology of a drone can really help a farmer save a little time and money," said Carter, who grew up on his family's farm in Missouri and continues to farm with his fiance's family in Waltonville. "It really will make the future of agriculture, and a lot of other industries, improve. There are endless possibilities; to do anything you want with it as long as you follow the rules."

Like Braden, Carter said he plans to sit for the pilot certification next month so he can use it on the farm in a variety of ways. He is also keeping open the option to use it as a part-time job commercially.

In the future, Carter says he only sees improvements made on current technology that will help people in a variety of areas.

Specifically, he is interested in unique lenses that recognize heat patterns and nitrogen levels.

UASs are a growing, cutting-edge technology with applications in a wide range of occupations other than agriculture, including business operations and programming, the collection and analysis of geospatial data, and much more.

Those interested in the UAS program can enroll now in Fall 2016 classes.

The three required courses run one after another in one semester, lasting approximately five weeks each.

This fall, classes are scheduled for 5 – 9:50 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays in the Advanced Technology Center, Room 177, on the Ina campus.

After successful completion of these classes, graduates will have an occupational certificate, which can be used in a range of industries that continues to grow as the technology develops.

To enroll, students must pass a criminal background check.

To become a certified pilot with the FAA, students must be 16 years of age, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, and be in a physical and mental condition to safely operation a UAS.

More information about UASs can be found on the FAA's website

For more information about RLC's UAS program, contact Chris Edwards at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1278 or

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