Earlier this month, the Buena Vista board of trustees approved plans for a drone park on a section of the Rodeo Grounds property.
It would be a new public park for the town that would be used by the Central Colorado Unmanned Aerial Systems Club for recreation and as a training grounds for those interested in learning how to fly drones – a skillset with an ever-growing list of applications.
The UAS Club, whose next meeting is Saturday, Sept. 5 at the Central Colorado Regional Airport, has over 40 members and grew out of the UAS advisory board created by the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners in 2015.
“The purpose was to advise county entities on how to proceed with integrating that technology. Police, Fire, that kind of thing,” said club president Taylor Albrecht. “The club ended up taking on what the board was doing, so the board decided to dissolve.”
“As part of the establishment of the club, as part of our mission, we wanted to be able to promote positive use of drones and also help develop a kind of ecosystem to attract business,” Albrecht said.
Last July, a group of students came to Chaffee County from the University of Denver to practice flying drones for the purpose of topographical mapping.
“I looked at how they were training, the layout that they were training and thought, ‘well, that’s pretty neat,’” said Albrecht, a former pilot who uses drones for real estate photography himself, as well as being the guy who takes aerial photos of the BV Strong Community Dinner every year.
The UAS club also had fostered a connection with the Center for Excellence for Advanced Aerial Technical Firefighting in Rifle, which has designed a qualification course for drone pilots, especially those in first responder fields.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that drone pilots be certified to fly, but Albrecht notes with a dry chuckle that the certification is the only one that doesn’t actually require the prospective pilot to prove they know how to fly.
At the course in Rifle, the certification process requires pilots to complete the course to the satisfaction of instructors.
“Where that might come into play is if somebody were driving along and they were in a different area and they saw something like a wildfire going on where they felt they could help with their drone, they show the incident commander that they’ve got a certificate and that lends credibility for them being used for an operation,” Albrecht said.
In phase 1 of the drone park, which is scheduled to be open as early as October, the club will be able to conduct similar certification.
An obstacle course is planned for phase 2 of the drone park next year, and after that, phase 3 would see the construction of a race course, which may someday be the home of sanctioned races held by drone racing leagues.
“That is going to help anyone with Fire, Search and Rescue, police, to practice their skills,” he said.
“The focus is to help people acquire flying skills and as part of that understand how to not only fly that safely but legally,” Albrecht said.
Chaffee County’s topography has long made it a destination for aircraft testing, and Albrecht sees that the area may also become a destination for drone pilots.
Albrecht said that, through the UAS Club’s Roundup meetings, Chaffee County ‘is kind of on the map already with people. There’s already an awareness. And if we keep this momentum up, I think it’s going to really benefit the area.”