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Drone Biz celebrates one-year anniversary

Tammy Jo Taft, a drone pilot for Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, talks about how she became an unexpected pilot. Her Thursday presentation during Drone Biz at the Grand Forks Herald was part of the event's one-year anniversary. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)

A company wanting to use unmanned aircraft has to go through several steps before it can start flying, but it may not have to look much farther than its own bullpen for a pilot, even if the aviation prospect doesn't have his or her wings.

"This is something you can learn," said Tammy Jo Taft, a drone pilot for Advanced Engineering and Environmental Service. "This is a skill you can add to your repertoire."

Taft was speaking from experience when she presented Thursday at the Grand Forks Herald during Drone Biz, a monthly meeting of leaders and businesspeople involved in the unmanned aircraft industry. A native of Arthur, N.D., Taft has acquired a variety of skills as a writer, photographer, social media consultant and web designer.

She hasn't shied away from learning new skills, she said during Drone Biz, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this week. She didn't know what she wanted to do when she went to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The school had programs for journalism, radio and television broadcast, all of which she utilized throughout her career.

She said she had no experience flying drones when she came back to North Dakota to work for AE2S in Fargo. But the company started looking into how it could connect with residents as it worked on the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project, per the request of its clients.

"They said, 'This is so big. How do we help people visualize it?'" she explained, noting a project of this type and size was nowhere to be found in the region.

Taft also managed AE2S's social media needs, and the company wanted to keep its audience engaged with interesting content, she said.

That's when AE2S started assessing how unmanned aircraft could give residents an idea of the project's progress.

"This isn't just us wanting to try new technology," she said. "This is something that can provide something that nothing else can.

"What better way to show people what is happening today than using a flyover video?" she asked.

In her presentation, "Perspectives from and Unexpected Drone Pilot," she reviewed how she was asked by her company to train to be a drone pilot, and soon she was taking video for multiple purposes. One of her most recent videos shot with a drone included a flyover of Hillsboro, N.D., this week showing the aftermath of a storm that produced tornadoes.

There are various steps to becoming a certified drone pilot—taking classes and passing an exam, among other things—and making sure the company is compliant with federal regulations.

But Taft encouraged businesses to look into it, adding they didn't have to hire someone from the outside to be a pilot. There may be no person in the office that has experience in flying drones, but they may be able to learn.

Taft jokingly used herself as example, noting that she passed her exam on the first time.

"Don't necessarily discount someone (in your office) who has no pilot experience," she said. "If I can pass it on the first try, that should say something."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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