Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

February 14, 2019
Drone Master

Grantsville’s Shane Conner has been flying drones for years and helps others learn to design, build and program their own 

At the same time some skills become obsolete as a result of advancing technology, other skills are created.

Drone development is one skill in demand of increasingly more jobs, according to Shane Conner of Grantsville, who flies drones as a hobby.

Conner volunteers at the Community Learning Center in Tooele City, where he helps students design, build and program their own drones. The work is part of the robotics class in the IT/Engineering program.

“They have a college and high school program where they do competitions between the high schools and stuff,” he said. “They’ll do a line of sight competition where they have to program a drone to do a certain automated flight, or they’ll fly the drone themselves where they have to pick up an obstacle, drop it off somewhere and then go pick up another one.”

Conner is happy with the traction the drone program has gained at the CLC.

“At this point we’ve got them going; they’re kind of moving on their own,” he said. “One student will help the next year’s students. … I (still) go there from time to time and help.”

Tooele County recently invested in drone development. Last October, Tooele and Box Elder counties launched a nonprofit organization called Deseret Unmanned Aerial Systems. Based in Tooele, Deseret UAS works to promote drone development and provide local test areas for new prototype drones.

In addition to drone building, drone piloting is an increasingly important skill, Conner said. One of his friends runs a drone program at the Kennecott copper mine doing aerial mining surveys. Another friend works for a company that hunts down rogue drones.

“There are a lot of companies looking for pilots — it’s growing quite a bit, actually,” he said. “The industry’s huge. You could fly in mining, aerial photography, the movie industry — there are a lot of opportunities for some of the kids coming up in this program.”

Conner himself has been flying drones since 2012, the year he got a GoPro camera.

“That’s kind of what started everything,” he said. “I started watching GoPro videos online and found out they were flying GoPros on drones. … I thought, ‘I want to learn to fly my GoPro,’ (so) … I bought a $50 toy and started flying it around.”

He first learned to fly by line of sight, which is drone jargon for watching the drone while piloting, similar to driving a toy remote control car.

After he started flying the toy drone, he switched to flying remote controlled foam airplanes that he built himself. After about a year, he started building and flying his own drones.

“It’s been an evolution as far as building drones,” Conner said. “I started off (learning to make them) with internet forums or YouTube videos. … In the early days, there wasn’t as much information shared; you kind of ventured on your own a bit. You’d buy (or build) a frame … and then alter it to fit a part you could buy.”

Conner started by just flying his drones around fields. After learning to fly by line of sight, he switched to flying by first person view, or FPV.

FPV is made possible by a set of video goggles linked to the drone’s onboard camera. It’s allows the pilot to feel almost as if he or she were in the drone’s cockpit.

In early 2014, Conner got into drone racing. In 2015, he placed third in a drone race in Las Vegas. In 2016, he participated in the first official drone race in the state of Utah.

The racing drones were about half the size of the ones Conner was used to flying, with 5-inch propellers and a maximum speed of 80 miles per hour.

“They’ll get up there (to 80 mph) in a second or less, they’re fast,” he said. 

Racing required a lot of time, however, and before long Conner was back to flying around fields. His favorite thing to do is fly around obstacles, like trees or fences, in a piloting style called freestyle.

“I started playing with the surrounding areas,” he explained. “It’s similar to what you’d see airplanes do, sport airplanes, but these (drones) are much more maneuverable. They’re highly maneuverable.”

Conner isn’t the only one to move away from racing.

“The racing scene has kind of died down,” he said. “Most people do freestyle.”

He continued, “It’s (freestyle is) not as time consuming. I’ll stop at a park with my equipment and fly a few batteries. … I’ve been doing that for about 4 or 5 years now.”

The thing that keeps drawing Conner back to drone flying is the adrenaline rush. 

“I used to ride motorcycles and they have an adrenaline rush, but there’s always a safety factor because you could get injured,” he said. “With drone racing that factor is gone. … I can crash at 80 miles per hour, send my drone into a wall, or into a tree is probably most common, and I just have to take my goggles off, maybe replace a propeller and then I’m back in the air.”

The quality of available drones and drone parts has improved dramatically over the past seven years, and they just keep getting better, Conner said.

“I can get them flying at a high level within 6 months or a year, where it took me years back in the day because we just flew junk,” he said. “It seems like we went through a lot of parts.”

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