The award-winning Environmental and Spatial Technologies program, better known as EAST, at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School has a new tool — a remote control aerial drone.

Purchased at Samy’s Camera in Santa Barbara with a $1,400 grant from National Geographic, the DJI Phantom quadricopter is capable of flying up to 1,000 feet and flies at close to 25 mph while taking photos and recording HD video from an onboard camera.

In an outdoor assembly last week for third- and fourth-graders at Solvang School, EAST teacher Chip Fenenga, his son, Russ, and daughter, Sarah, described and demonstrated the drone’s capabilities to the delight of about 100 students.

When the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft took to the sky Tuesday, the students “oohed and ahhed” and applauded. Each of the six classes took turns standing and waving as the camera took their group photo and a few select students got to fly the drone.

Fenenga’s wife, Julene Fenenga, is a third-grade teacher at Solvang School. Russ, a 2012 SYVUHS graduate, is a Santa Barbara City College student while Sarah is a SYVUHS senior.

The drone, about 11.4 inches by 11.4 inches, has been used for aerial photos of Cachuma Lake and Solvang Festival Theater. It weighs a little less than 2 pounds with the lithium-polymer battery.

Drones are used to deliver medicine in some places and have many practical uses for police and fire departments, Chip Fenenga said. Recently, Russ demonstrated the four 8-inch propeller blade drone to the Mammoth Mountain ski and lift patrols.

They are widely used by the U.S. military and other federal agencies.

Dos Pueblos High School also has a drone, Chip Fenenga said. He doesn’t know of any other high schools that have one.

An iPhone connected to the control unit gives a live view of what the camera is seeing through an app and a Wi-Fi connection. With GPS, the drone can hover on its own and return to the spot where it was launched from by itself.

In his grant application, Fenenga said drones are the future of graphical education.

EAST, a Regional Occupational Program/Career Technical Education offered through the Santa Barbara County Education Office, is one of the most high profile programs on the campus.

SYVUHS students in EAST are the first and only high school students in the world to use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology for digital preservation.

Students have performed a 3D laser scan of Mission Santa Ines for the University of San Francisco and California Missions Commission “El Camino Real” project to scan all of California’s 21 Spanish Missions, four presidios and three pueblos over the next two to three years.

The idea behind the project is to make a virtual 3D model of the structures so if they’re damaged in earthquakes or fires, for example, the model provides a precise outline down to the millimeter for easier reconstruction.

SYVUHS is also the first high school technology center for CyArk, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “digital archive of the world’s heritage sites for preservation and education.”

Using CyArk software, the data gathered by the Faro Focus 3D laser scanner is converted into a photo-like representation of what the eye would see at the site that was scanned.

Last month, EAST students used the drone for mapping of Dana Adobe in Nipomo for Cyark

The EAST class, started in 2003, has received numerous awards and grants for a 2005 project mapping Isla Vista’s eroding sea cliffs from Coal Oil Point to Campus Point using global positioning system and geographical information system devices and for a 2004 project mapping the remains of Mission Santa Ines’ dam and aqueduct with the same technology.

In 2008, for example, EAST won a $100,000 grant from Best Buy.

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