Drone fest to offer up-close look at aeronautics


SANTA CLAUS — If you’ve ever wanted to be a drone pilot, this weekend is your chance to try it out.

Lincoln Land Drone Fest will offer visitors of all ages a chance to test their drone dexterity with a golf ball drop. No worries if you crash it, said Melissa Brockman, executive director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau.

“You don’t have to worry about buying it or breaking it,” she said. “You can just try it out.”

The fest will offer more than just pilot opportunities, however. Local drone pilots, high school robotics clubs, the National Guard and local businesses looking to hire drone operators will also be on site to educate people about drones and the opportunities in the field. For the fest’s main event, the FPV (first person view) Race League will race their drones through a course showcasing President Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood history in the Santa Claus Cup. In the race, pilots will maneuver through gates depicting moments from Lincoln’s Indiana boyhood.

The idea for the fest sprouted from an illegal video of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Park Superintendent Kendell Thompson saw the video — which promoted the memorial — circulating on Facebook. He contacted the creator, local drone pilot Aaron Begle, and said nice video, but don’t do that again. Operating drones on national parks property or in the air around them is illegal. The sound of the drones disturbs wildlife, and in the event of an emergency requiring air support, Thompson said, the drones are an added hazard.

Begle apologized and said he had no idea about the law.

“I said, ‘I’m not surprised you didn’t know,’” Thompson said. “‘How would you know that?’” 

From there, Thompson and Begle started chatting about the technological advances and rising popularity of drones, especially in the local area. The two came up with the idea for an event to teach people about drones and the laws surrounding their use. Begle started flying drones a couple years ago and moved to Hawaii for about a year where he helped businesses get their drone licenses and learn to fly them. He moved back to Indiana when he decided to start his own drone consulting business. The drone industry in Hawaii is saturated, Begle said, but in Indiana drones haven’t “taken off.”

After talking about hosting a drone festival, Begle and Kendell pulled in Brockman, who pulled in other community members, and the fest sprang to life.

Brockman said drone fests are new to the region, and featuring Lincoln’s history makes the Santa Claus event unique. Brockman and Thompson expect Lincoln would be interested in drones, were he alive now.

“President Lincoln was interested in cutting-edge, transportation technology,” Thompson said.

Thompson knows several stories of Lincoln taking an interest in the technology of his time. When Springfield rifles were being sold to the government, for example, Lincoln made a trip to the factory to fire it for himself, even though he wasn’t a gun enthusiast, and to learn how it worked. Lincoln is also the only president to file a patent. After traveling by boat in Louisiana, Lincoln invented a mechanism to lift boats over shoals and sandbars. His invention was patented but never produced. The story that links Lincoln most to drones, however, is that of the Military Aeronautics Corps, which became the U.S. Air Force. Lincoln established the corps in 1861 during the Civil War. The corps used gas balloons to attack Confederate troops from the skies at long distances.

“It was the first time that had ever been done,” Thompson said. “That’s a piece of aeronautics tech that Lincoln was directly involved in.”

The fest will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST this Saturday, May 13 at Yellig Park, just off Highway 162 in Santa Claus.

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