BISMARCK-Brad Stangeland watched over the shoulder of a student, with an iPad and remote control in one hand. A faint whirring noise carried over the distance as they intently stared into the parking lot.
Stangeland, overseeing a group of about 10 children in the parking lot across the street from Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy on Wednesday, June 7, was teaching them how to fly a Phantom 3 drone.
"Is that true you have to call every time you fly?" fifth-grader Avery Matt asked Stangeland. Yes, every time you have to call the local airport control tower, he told her.
Stangeland and another instructor, Tim Meyer, taught a group of 25 kids during a two-day camp hosted by the Career Academy. The students learned everything from drone safety to learning the characteristics of flight to building Lego drones.
"This is the way school should look like," said Dale Hoerauf, director of the Career Academy, who said this is the first year drone instruction has been offered through a summer camp.
The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the camp used a flight simulator, flew mini quadcopters then went outside to watch the larger drones in action.
In the parking lot, the kids took turns flying the drones, which, they said was surprisingly easy.
"They actually do a better job flying these than my high schoolers," said Stangeland, who teaches the Career Academy's aviation programs. Stangeland was also a pilot, primarily flying charter planes and doing flight instruction.
"Tree!" one student warned.
In addition to trees in the parking lot, the students have to be careful because they're in the approach path of planes, said Stangeland, who warned them of how annoying the drones can be for pilots.
Interest among student in the aviation programs has been growing, with participation doubling this school year, according to Stangeland. In the Aviation 1 program, students learn what it takes to become a pilot, as well as other career paths.
A former student, Max Rydquist, also helped teach the students how to fly drones on Wednesday.
Rydquist, who just graduated from Century High School and worked an internship through the Career Academy, is joining the U.S. Army and ships out for basic training on Sept. 11 to Oklahoma. After that, he'll continue drone training and one day fly for the Army.
"I've been working on these things since I was about these guys' ages; actually, it's always been a hobby of mine," he said. "I didn't have anything like this when I was a kid. It was really just me being a nerd by myself."
In October, Rydquist started a drone company, Dragon Drones, for which he flies drones for real estate and insurance. He'd like to get into agricultural work and get farmers to integrate drones. He said he often visits with farmers and tells them about the advantages of drones, such as saving time checking on their crops and providing adequate bug spraying.
Students also spent time Wednesday inside the Career Academy's Aviation room, where small, blue quadcopters whizzed around, occasionally running into other students or a desk.
"It takes a little while to learn how to fly these, but, once you actually know how to get the controls, that means you learn how to do tricks and stuff," said fourth-grader Finley Opp, who was visibly excited about learning more about drones.
"This control, once you move this one up, it starts taking off," said Opp, who has a quadcopter at home.
His dad also has a drone, and, once, he flew it it all the way to the mall on Black Friday to check out the parking situation. Opp also learned from a police officer that drones can fly underwater and are used by law enforcement officers in search-and-rescue missions.
"I wanted to take this class because I'm really interested in drones, so that means I could figure out some more controls and maybe try one out with a camera," said Opp, adding he's interested in becoming a pilot or policeman who uses drones.
BPS Career Academy's drone camp was made possible by a $75,000 Tesoro grant to be used for STEM activities, Hoerauf said.
"One of the things we've always wanted to do is run a camp during the summer, and there's no money to ... pay the teachers and to buy the equipment," said Hoerauf, adding the camp was made possible by a $75,000 grant from Tesoro, helped pay for the drones and salaries for teachers.
The classes filled up within an hour of opening registration, so Hoerauf said another session is being offered next week.
The Bismarck Tribune is a media partner with Forum News Service