During his Monday evening “fireside chats” with students and graduates, Keven Gambold, instructor of HeatSpring’s Drone Pilot Boot Camp gets excited when he hears what students are doing in the field.

In the course, which launched about a year ago, Gambold offers online and simulator based unmanned aircraft training for the solar energy community.

It’s a great time right now for solar industry members to add this skillset to their toolbox and branch out into this growing field, says Gambold. “You can become a legal, safe and professional commercial unmanned aircraft pilot,” he says.

The first eight lessons walk students through getting their federal unmanned aircraft operator’s license. To date, all students have passed the required test, with most of them earning scores in the 90% range.

Second Part of Course Focuses on Getting Work

“The second series of videos and practical sessions translate the brand new license in your wallet into cold hard cash,” says Gambold. “The focus is on getting work, selecting the correct aircraft and payloads, acquiring the right data and producing an invoice-worthy report for your customers, all with simulator and live-fly tasks and real world job examples.”

Gambold is always available by email, but the fireside chats allow students to talk together and learn about what others are doing in the field.

Students who joined the fireside chat a few weeks ago demonstrated the promise of the industry, he says.

One student, Mark, had just completed the so-called “Part 107,” gaining a commercial license that meets a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation known as 14 CFR Part 107. He is now working through the second part of the drone course.

Looking at Trouble Spots, Best Practices in the Field

“We troubleshot some of his local airspace issues by going over the aeronautical charts online and found a technical workaround to a particularly troublesome drone,” says Gambold. They also agreed on an assignment for Mark that involved gathering data at a local baseball field and reviewing the best procedures for collecting the images needed for building a three dimensional model.

Mark is now working on starting a new company that specializes in solar inspections, possibly based on the software platform Scanifly. He’s in discussions with Scanifly.

Students Can Quickly Get to Paying Gigs

Another student, Jeff, known as “Mr. Solar” in his region, also finished his “Part 107” FAA requirements a few months ago. He acquired his first industrial drone last month, and on the night of the fireside chat, had just completed his first commercial solar flight.

Jeff shared some imagery he collected and also said he’s building a website.

“With all three of us on the call, with different experiences and much to learn from each other, it ran for over an hour and really showed how quickly the graduates can get to paying gigs,” says Gambold.