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Kara's Corner

International Drone Day: How it Started and Why You Should Attend

May 4, 2017

Drones are good. That’s the mantra attached to International Drone Day, which will unfold at 150 simultaneous worldwide events this Saturday, May 6. And drones are safer than you might think. I caught up with the event’s co-founder, Sarah O’Neal, along with aviation veterans Loretta Alkalay and Lorie Grabham, to learn more about International Drone Day’s origins and why members of the general public, lawmakers, plus the media should attend a nearby gathering.

Three years back, the news cycle surrounding drones skewed negative — or controversial, at best. Whether confused for unmanned military vehicles dispatched to drop bombs, or singled out as hobbyist crafts that veered uncomfortably close to major airports and their planes, the general perception was poor. Sarah O’Neal, and her husband David, who also run That Drone Show, grew tired of the constant misconceptions and decided to educate people on the positive impact drones make on society.

As it turns out, many people, the world over, agreed with the O’Neals. Says Sarah, “when we announced the first annual International Drone Day in 2015, we were inundated with team captain requests.” The enthusiasm spilled over as over 40,000 people came out to participate in the inaugural day’s activities. While it started out in March, initially, she learned that “the first Saturday of May is dry in most places and the weather conditions are guaranteed to be reasonable.”

Learn how to fly for free from professionals like Kenji Sugahara. (Kenji Sugahara)

This is especially true in Portland, known for its inordinate number of rainy days throughout the year. Sarah and David are based in Southern California but chose the gorgeous hub in the Pacific Northwest as the main event’s location for the quality of the community and its dedication to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). From Amelia Dronehart founder Rhianna Lakin, to Kenji Sugahara, the Dronescape pilot I recently featured for responsibly capturing aerial footage of the Women’s March, there’ll be a variety of worthwhile sessions to choose from featuring industry leaders.

One important point Curtis Dart, the main event organizer, stressed is that anyone opting to fly a drone this Saturday will either need to be insured or an existing member of the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics). If you’re just learning to fly drones, I suggest checking out Verifly for temporary, affordable coverage. It goes without saying that any drone you choose to bring to any event should be registered with the FAA if it weighs more than half a pound. Some good (the operative word, here) news: co-sponsor AMA is offering up free youth membership to anyone 17 and younger.

Across the country, New York City’s only aeronautical institution, Vaughn College, will be holding International Drone Day for the second year in a row. Building on the success of last year’s event, the student-run UAV Club is hosting a series of workshops where attendees can learn the basics of 3D printing, programming languages such as Python, and building a drone. They’re also coordinating an indoor flying event in the center’s netted hangar.

Speakers for the day include famed drone attorney Peter Sachs, the Hon. John Goglia, former NTSB Member, Steve Cohen, President of the Drone User Group Network, and Edward Kostakis. The incredibly knowledgable Loretta Alkalay will be conducting an informational session on how to become a Part 107 pilot.

If you’re in Arizona, the Moxie Girls, a Glendale-based all-girl STEM group consisting of middle school students, will be building drones and showcasing them at Sierra Verde’s campus. They’ll also have a photo booth area where attendees can have fun posing with props (drones). Lorie Grabham, President of the AUVSI Saguaro Chapter, is beyond thrilled to be doing this event for the first time ever. “I invited the City Mayor (Weiers) and he accepted. That speaks volumes to our city!”

Ahead of International Drone Day, there is a free (the $20 deposit required will be refunded) Fly Day in partnership with Girls in Tech and DroneDeploy. If you’ve ever wanted to start mapping with drones (the benefits are numerous), this event featuring The Drone Girl and Jessie Mooberry is a good starting point if you happen to be in the Bay Area.

International Drone Day events are fun, informative, and always free to attend. This Saturday, learn something new by joining a team near you. Drones. Are. Good.

Featured image:  Lorie Grabham/The Moxie Girls 


Kara is a Bay Area-based certified remote pilot, marketing consultant, and writer working with clients including DroneDeploy, Flying Robot international Film Festival, Wedding Drones, and ACE Hardware. Follow her on Instagram for her more artistic aerial imagery, find out how to hire her here.

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