An AscTec Hummingbird soars through the air during a demonstration for the Daily Pilot, by Revolution Aviation located at John Wayne Airport, on Tuesday at Bonita Creek Park in Newport Beach. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / May 20, 2014)

  • Related
  •  Photo: 
  •  Photo: 
  • Topics
  • Air Transportation Industry
  • Federal Aviation Administration

When pilot Mark Robinson started his flight school at John Wayne Airport, he knew he would offer instruction for helicopters and planes.

But the 34-year-old aviation entrepreneur also wanted to provide students with an opportunity for something a little different. He considered a third component.

Drone lessons.

In a county known for its wealth — JWA, after all, offers valet parking for its well-heeled fliers — Robinson figured he might find clients who needed help learning to fly the fancy toys.

Some people may pay up to $15,000 for a recreational drone. He imagined the extra price of learning to fly the machine without damaging it would be worthwhile.

The lessons also offered a cheaper alternative for those who might not want to shell out the price to get a pilot's license, yet wanted to practice flying aerial vehicles of some sort.

And so when Robinson's business, Revolution Aviation, held its official ribbon cutting earlier this year, it was billed as the fifth flight school in Orange County and the only one to offer helicopter, plane and, yes, drone instruction.

"It's a market that does seem to be getting a lot of press," he said in an interview preceding the February ceremony. "It's a market that is up and coming."

He later added, "I think it could be huge."


Getting Educated

Robinson's $750 full-day course for drone newbies begins in a classroom, where students receive drone-related information on air space, mechanics and public opinion.

They learn where they should fly the machines (an auditorium or an open field) and where they shouldn't (within three miles of the airport).

Then into a helicopter they go, buckling in for a 20-minute ride intended to imbue the soon-to-be drone operators with an improved sense for how the machines move.

"We actually think you get a better respect for the aircraft," explained Robinson, who used to fly the Goodyear blimp.

Manufactured in a variety of models, drones might resemble miniature planes or helicopters. What sets them apart from remote control devices is that they can be programmed to fly by themselves.

If operators become confused about the machine's orientation, they can simply direct the device to return to the place from which it took off, where it might land or hover, depending on how it has been programmed.

Or, as pointed out in the highly publicized case of Amazon's plans to deliver packages by way of drone, the machines could be programmed go to a specific "waypoint," as a coordinate is called. They can also be steered by an operator beyond his or her line of sight.

But part of the fun is learning to fly the machines in what is called free mode, a setting that gives complete control over its movements to the user, letting it swoop up, flip over or spin incessantly — at least until the battery dies.