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Thoughts on Obtaining a Remote Pilot Airman’s Certificate for Commercial Drone Use: Part 1

Recently, John Buerkle received a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate in the mail from the FAA. This enables him to fly a sUAS (Small Unmanned Aircraft System, aka drone) for commercial purposes, i.e. for work. The certificate is a very serious-looking wallet-sized card, much like a driver’s license.  This is his experience taking the test:

To obtain the certificate requires one to answer a slew of aeronautical based questions within a two-hour period.  60 questions, I thought how hard could it be? I’ve always considered myself a self-learner and good at taking tests. I followed the typical protocol, study the required information, schedule the exam, study further, cram for a couple of days in advance, then take the test. Generally, when taking tests, I typically finish well within the allocated time and leave with a pretty good feeling of how I’ve done on it. Well let me tell you, this exam took longer to complete and was much more stressful than I had anticipated.

To prepare for the exam I decided I was going to study all the free resources available on-line on the FAA UAS website as well as any others that I could locate. There were many. Once I felt like I was full of aeronautical knowledge, I took a sample on-line test provided by a UAS manufacturer. After not be able to answer the first half dozen questions I decided it was time to ‘hit the books’ again. After studying off and on in my free time in the evenings and on weekends (which these days seems to be few and far between), I was ready, I think, to take the exam. I scheduled the exam for 8:30 am on a Saturday morning at an FAA testing center, the Butler County Airport. I arrived at the airport a half hour early, as required by the FAA instructions.

At the appointed time, I was led to the test room and sat in front of what appeared to be a 1990 IBM PC, with the mouse on a short leash, located to the right of the keyboard (I’m left-handed). After the proctor left the room I ‘adjusted’ the tethered mouse to the appropriate location and began to take the test.

About ten questions into the exam I was feeling confident, then I began to hit a wall. The next several questions were very challenging, and frankly I was not sure I had chosen the correct answer, and I skipped a few so I could come back to them later. Well, after struggling through the remaining questions over the next hour I went back and answered the dozen or so questions that I had skipped. Some I was able to answer by deduction, while others were pure guesses.

At this point I was sure I’d be returning to take the exam a second time in a few weeks. About an hour and forty-five minutes into the allotted two hours I summoned the proctor to indicate I was throwing in the towel, I was finished. I was hot, sweaty and generally ready to be embarrassed for not passing the test.

Next, the proctor said I could review the questions that I answered incorrectly. The feeling of doom further set in. Finally, the protector said I will print your score. She handed the results to me and I had answered 48 of the 60 question correctly, for a passing score of 80%. Whew, I passed with room to spare, by six questions to be exact. Whether or not true, the proctor made me feel good b

y saying that most people pass with scores somewhere between 70 and 75%. At this point I was just happy that I was leaving the airport.

Looking back now, I realize that what I was doing was more like preparing for a second career. I found that landscape architecture and aeronautics have very little in common. I also learned that in aeronautic fields you speak a second language, one without any, or very few vowels, and in some cases, combine those consonants with numbers. For example:

KAGC 151832Z VRB03KT 10SM SCT030 OVC042 22/15 A3013 RMK AO2 T02170150

The above is a METAR. Oh, I forgot, you probably don’t speak the language, METAR is a Meteorological Terminal Air Report, i.e. current weather conditions. In this case for weather conditions for KAGC (Pittsburgh/Allegheny County) on 151832Z (the 15 day of the month at 1832 zulu time -2:32 eastern daylight time), VRB03KT (winds are variable direction, at 3 knots), 10SM (visibility is 10 or more surface miles, SCT030 (scattered clouds at 3000 feet AGL (above ground level) OVC042 (overcast cloud deck at 4200 feet AGL (above ground level), 22/15 (temperature is 22 degrees Celsius and dew point is 16 degrees Celsius), A3013 (altimeter setting 30.13),  RMK (end of METAR and beginning of Remarks), AO2 (site is automated and has a precipitation sensor), T02170150 (a nine digit place code indicating temperature and dew point to the nearest 1/10 degree, in this case 0 indicates the temperature is above Celsius, 21.7 indicates a temperature of 21.7 degrees Celsius, 0 indicates the dew point is above Celsius, and 150 indicates the dew point is 15.0 degrees Celsius.)

So now I think you understand the challenge set forth in gaining this certification. I also learned to read aeronautical maps. That’s another story for another time.

Next week I’ll share with you the Federal regulations and the specific aeronautical knowledge areas that you must be versed in to pass the exam.

New Park in Export Tells Story About Coal Mining While Serving Families

The Borough of Export is excited to announce the preparation of a Master Plan for a new park in the heart of town. JM Hall Jr. Park is located on the former site of the Export No. 2 Mine off Old William Penn Highway, next to the American Italian Club, and within easy walking distance from downtown Export. The park will aim to connect locals and visitors to the rich history of Export’s founding, former coal industry, and landscapes.

The park will be centered on a plaza simulating features of the mine during operational years. Restrooms inset into the hillside paired with a mural will give guests the illusion of walking into the mines. Extending across the plaza from the restroom “mine entrance” will be rail car tracks and a structure replicating the remnants of a tipple, just as an actual tipple once extended out over Old William Penn Highway. A picnic shelter is incorporated into this interpretive modern-day tipple structure, appearing to be a section of tipple with metal roof still intact.  Adjacent is a seasonal plaza which converts to an ice rink during winter.

A quarter mile scenic loop trail will extend from this plaza, connecting visitors to an open recreation lawn, amphitheater, nature playgrounds, vistas, a second picnic shelter, historic panels, and a woodland hiking trail. Interactive historic references include passing through a black locust tree grove, once used to provide supports for the mines, and recreated grassy tailing pile hills. Nature playgrounds include embankment slides, climbing rocks and logs, a sand pit, small tunnels, and a large grassy “tailing pile” with climbing features and a slide.

JM Hall Jr. Park will be capable of hosting small festivals, family reunions, picnics, and school groups. With the development of the regional trail along Turtle Creek to the entrance of the park and the new community park, visitors will stop and patronize the nearby local businesses during their visit. With the completion of the Master Plan in the fall of 2017, efforts will shift toward funding the construction of this wonderful park. Once built, JM Hall Jr. Park will join the other unique assets of Export, attracting both existing and potential families.

Child Care Center at Hort Woods Wins Design Award

We are pleased to announce that the Child Care Center at Hort Woods at Penn State has won a 2017 Merit Award from the Pennsylvania Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects! We were the landscape architect for the project, part of an integrated team including architects StudioMLA and nature play expert Robin Moore from the Natural Learning Institute. The design of the outdoor learning environment reflects the University’s understanding that environment is curriculum and that contact with nature is central to children’s well-being and development. The sensory-rich design provides a variety of settings and elements that immerse children in a daily experience of nature. Children develop ecological literacy as they play, learn, and build in the shade of mature oak trees preserved throughout the playground. Learn more here.

Missy honored with AHS Great American Gardener Award

This June, Pashek + MTR Firm Principal Missy Marshall was recognized at the 2017 American Horticultural Society Great American Gardeners Awards where she received the Landscape Design Award. This award is given to an individual whose work has demonstrated and promoted the value of sound horticultural practices in the field of landscape architecture. Congratulations Missy!

For full information about the Great American Gardeners Awards, click here.

Pashek Associates and MTR Landscape Architects have merged!

Award-winning Pittsburgh planning & landscape architecture firms Pashek Associates and MTR Landscape Architects have merged to become Pashek + MTR. By combining the strengths, specialties, and staff of both companies, we provide even greater capacity to help our clients realize their goals.

Pashek Associates, founded by Jim Pashek in 1984, has demonstrated excellence in park and recreation planning and design, community planning, and urban design. The firm is well known throughout Pennsylvania for projects that raise the bar for community engagement and sustainable site design in the public realm. Jim and his staff have particular expertise in facilitating an interactive and collaborative design process, which is an excellent fit with MTR’s core values of listening and responsiveness.

MTR Landscape Architects, founded by Missy Marshall, has had the privilege of working with botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the U.S. MTR has also been active in our local region, working with clients such as the City of Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, and private residences. We are proud to serve veterans and their families with design work at National Cemeteries around the country.

MTR and Pashek Associates share a commitment to sustainability and improving the world around us, creating exceptional places that connect people with nature and with each other. Our landscape architects and community planners create exceptional outdoor environments for clients of all kinds, including nonprofit organizations, municipal, state, and federal government, public gardens, architects and engineers, and public & private schools and universities. We are a full-service firm with experience in every phase of project development, from planning to construction.

As Jim and Missy gradually transition into mentorship roles over the next several years, landscape architects John Buerkle, Nancy Roman, Sara Thompson, and Kara Roggenkamp will continue in a leadership capacity at Pashek MTR, putting a combined 78 years of experience of planning, site design and development at our clients’ fingertips. Our staff of talented, credentialed design and support professionals marries experience and creativity with skill in communicating with our clients and communities.

We’re excited to be a growing firm that values listening to our clients and being responsive to their needs. Underlying that responsiveness is respect – for the communities where we work, for the natural and built environment, and for people who use the spaces we plan and design.

Pashek Implementable Plans now “tools” at County Planning website

Implementable Comp PlanAllegheny County has included resources for the Implementable Comprehensive Plan in its updated website for “Allegheny Places,” the county’s comprehensive plan.

Calling growing interest in the implementable approach to planning “an encouraging trend,” the site includes several examples from Pashek Associates among the downloadable resources. (See: )

The state Department of Community and Economic Development and Pashek Associates pioneered the Implementable Comprehensive Plan. This model of planning emphasizes noticeable and tangible change in the issue areas that citizens find most pressing and most do-able. The main goal of an Implementable Plan is to kick-start desired change in a community – not so much to produce a thick comprehensive plan book.

The Allegheny County planning toolbox web pages highlight recent plans Pashek Associates created with various communities, and a “case study” of the firm’s collaboration with The Township of Pine. Pashek Associates currently is working on Implementable Comprehensive Plans for the City of Jeannette (Westmoreland County), and Crafton and Ingram boroughs (Allegheny County), and is about to begin working with Churchill, Monroeville and Wilkins Township for a multi-municipal implementable plan.

The New Wild: Can Invasives Actually be Good?

the new wild Most of us have bought into an ecological ideology where invasive species do not exist and native plants thrive in a balanced system. In the design world you get points for sustainability if you remove invasives and use native plants. But a new paradigm is evolving as scientists study how natural systems adapt to human impacts.

In “The New Wild – Why Invasive Species will be Nature’s Salvation” Fred Pearce argues that there is no such thing as pristine nature. In addition, nature is neither “stable nor perfectible.” However, current conservation efforts seek to return ecosystems to a static, pre-human state by protecting endangered and weakened species, thereby breaking evolution, holding back adaptation. Pearce writes, “If we want to assist nature to regenerate, we need to promote change, rather than hold it back.”

Pearce argues that invasives, and aliens in general, may be our best bet to heal “the damage done by chain saws, plows, pollution and climate change.” For example, the spreading of Japanese Knotweed may be an indication that nature is bouncing back, reinventing itself for the twenty-first century. In many cases, those invading species accused of crowding out natives have simply taken up space where natives can no longer survive and are declining. In other instances, such as with the water hyacinth, alien invaders may take over due to pollution, and in fact provide an important pollution filtration role. And when pollution decreases, so does the alien species.

While Pearce does acknowledge that there are horror stories about alien species disrupting ecosystems, most of the time introduced species die out or settle down. He and a growing number of scientists claim that aliens have greatly increased biodiversity and can provide important roles in “novel ecosystems” – composed of natives and those introduced by humans. As environmentalists, Pearce believes we should embrace this new ecology and celebrate nature’s capacity for change within the New Wild.

This is a provocative new line of thinking. What’s your opinion? Several of us in the office are also reading “Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy. Two very different schools of thought. More to come later…

Jim Pashek Receives APA PA 2015 Planning Leadership Award

Jim at APA PA conferenceYesterday the American Planning Association Pennsylvania chapter presented Jim with their 2015 Planning Leadership by a Professional Planner award. The award was conferred at the association’s annual conference Oct. 20, 2015, in Pittsburgh.

The award recognizes outstanding, significant and sustained contributions to the profession through distinguished practice, and places Jim among “the best and brightest in Pennsylvania Planning” in 2015.

Jim has demonstrated over the course of his 40- year career that professionals should facilitate change, not only in communities but also in the profession. He has helped devise new methods of community planning, shared lessons learned, and relentlessly championed grass-roots approaches as the most practical, useful and long-lasting.

Accepting the award, Jim said, “Today is a great time to be a planner, with so many terrific trends going on in the field. But I have a three-part challenge for everyone in the room. I’d like to ask all the planners assembled here to do these things: To do excellent work; to give voice to those who are not at the table; and to do what you are doing in a sustainable manner. With these steps we can most effectively make a positive difference in the communities where we work.

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