GREENFIELD — 21st Century Cooperative recently razed a feed mill that sat on its Greenfield property to make room for future expasion, says location manager Trent Raasch.
Doug Welsch doesn’t live very far away from the co-op and was able to capture video and still images of the building falling with his drone.
Welsch is employed by POET Biorefining (formerly Flint Hills Resources) near Menlo as an instrumentation technician, meaning he oversees many of the controls that operate the ethanol plant, and was approached about becoming a drone pilot for the company. They use the technology for inspecting bins, tanks, and other equipment.
Unlike some, because he was embarking on this journey for his employer, Welsch went through the Federal Aviation Administration’s pilot license process, which meant he was required to go to a Des Moines testing center to take a 60-question, multiple choice test.
“It’s a timed test. I think it was 60 questions. I was multiple guess, as I call it. I think you had 70% to pass. There were cameras watching you. It was probably the hardest test I’ve ever taken,” said Welsch. “There were a lot of aviation questions. You have to know a lot about numbers and controlled air space.”
Welsch said POET has even greater drones than what he owns, that can go into vessels and tanks that need to be inspected.
“I had a smaller drone that I had before, but I bought this one, and I have another one that is similar that I use for work that has a zoom capability on it. I do elevator door inspections up there, so you want to get close,” Welsch said. “I got into it at work and said I wanted to get my own.”
Welsch uses his own drone on his farm, where he and his cousin Brett Welsch inspect crops during the growing season.
Drone pilots have to remain aware of other air traffic, even though they’re only legally allowed to fly at 400 feet altitude. It is also good to keep the drone within line of sight to increase safety. Welsch is also a HAM radio operator, so he’s able to follow local air traffic when he’s flying his drone.
That being said, Welsch said his drone has the capability to go about a mile into the sky and about a mile away from the controller, though smaller ones don’t have a strong enough signal to reach those capabilities.
“I have some wind turbines on our farm and I’ve gotten really close to those on nights they’re not running,” Welsch said. “You don’t want to get close to them when they’re running because there’s a lot of turbulence. What I like the best are the fields, then Brett and I will look at it and say ‘There’s a spot I missed or there’s a spot you missed.’ Sunrises and sunsets are really neat too.”
Welsch said that those interested in pursuing drone flying should pursue it because they would enjoy it.
“It’s so much different up above, looking at stuff,” he said.