BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — Drones may not be the first piece of farming equipment a student thinks of when they look out across the sprawling crops and farmland that surround Buena Regional High School. On Thursday, they learned how drones can be a valuable tool for farmers.

Using a $30,000 aircraft the size of a pizza box, equipped with a camera to create infrared aerial views of farmland, students from across the county learned from experts at the nation’s leading aeronautical school about practical applications of drones.

“People have a preconceived notion of what drones do. I think the demonstration is an excellent opportunity for them to broaden their horizon,” said Colleen Conklin, executive director of the Gaetz Aerospace Institute at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “It’s very much about making it relevant to the future workforce.”

Instructors from Gaetz visited Buena Regional High School for a demonstration of an agricultural drone used to collect crop data, and learned how that data can be used to help farmers better manage their fields. Students from Hammonton, Cedar Creek, Oakcrest, Mainland Regional and Atlantic City high schools and the Atlantic County Institute of Technology also participated.

The demonstration, one of two Embry-Riddle is giving this week in Atlantic County schools, is part of a larger initiative by the Atlantic County Economic Alliance to grow an aviation industry in South Jersey.

“We’re working on bringing a new industry to Atlantic County,” ACEA Executive Director Lauren Moore said. “A large part of it is starting to develop our workforce.”

In addition to its research partnership already established with Embry-Riddle for the National Aviation Research and Technology Park, Moore said he is hoping Embry-Riddle will be able to train and certify teachers in the region.

He said the demonstrations encourage interest among students in signing up for the STEM courses available to them at their local high schools.

“This is where aviation, unmanned aviation systems and STEM have applications across all industries,” Moore said. “Technology and rural development combined. This is the perfect demonstration to show how those two come together.”

Holding onto the sides of the black-and-yellow drone, Peter Wambolt, UAS project manager with Embry-Riddle, prepared to launch the craft while student Nate Benson from Cedar Creek read aloud a preflight checklist.

Once the propeller was engaged, Wambolt thrust the drone into the air and students looked to the sky as it circled the football field. As Wambolt explained, the drone was capturing thousands of photos of the space below while it flew along its predetermined path.

Software was then used to stitch the photos together to create the infrared map.

“And through the map, you can tell the health of the field,” Wambolt said.

In the crowd Thursday were 60 students from Buena Regional’s burgeoning agricultural business class. Superintendent David Cappuccio said the demonstration will help those students learn about business opportunities in the STEM field they may have thought didn’t exist in the more rural areas of the state.

“A lot of people, when they think aviation, they think pilots,” Cappuccio said. “Agriculture is historically a big part of the Buena community. Agriculture is not just farming.”

The five-minute flight ended as the drone glided back onto the football field and the students headed back inside the school to analyze the data.

On Friday, Embry-Riddle was to visit ACIT for another demonstration, working with students in the Embry-Riddle aviation STEM program.

ACIT is the first Atlantic County high school to implement the Embry-Riddle program. Classes began in September with 20 students who have the opportunity to earn a full semester of college credits and industry certifications prior to graduation.

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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