Binghamton University: Portrait of a Pilot

2014-05-20

BINGHAMTON, NY – Long before Jeff Bezos hitched Amazon’s wagon to the future of drone technology, a facilities worker at Binghamton University turned an after-hours activity creating and flying a small squadron of drones (he prefers the term quad copters) into a new way to showcase the physical beauty of his scenic campus to the wider world using social media.

Jim Johnson, who has worked as a carpenter in Binghamton’s facilities department for over 20 years, recently combined his love of building, radio-controlled flight, engineering, art and photography to launch what started as a hobby—he crafted four quad copters by hand using African mahogany and other choice hardwoods—and has now been integrated into the way the University officially promotes itself.

Earlier this year, Johnson produced an aerial video of campus and showed it to Binghamton President Harvey Stenger, who immediately recognized its value.

Now, Johnson’s name is among the credits in several promotional videos for the University. "The first time I saw Jim's work I was amazed at his ability to combine technology and art," said Stenger. "In a short time he perfected his techniques and equipment and combined those achievements with an advanced artistic perception to create stunning and unique films of nature and the built world."

Johnson is an active member of a radio-controlled (RC) flying group and of the OpenPilot organization, an open-source group that designs and builds the control boards (the brains) for the quad copters he creates and flies. "I actually built 16 quads last year," he says. "Four were for myself the others were for other members of our group."

Though drone technology has become extremely popular, Johnson says he doesn’t like to use "the D word," due to its perception as being war-related. "It's been an uphill battle to sway public opinion because of this one word," he says. "We fly quad copters, tri copters and hex copters," Johnson notes, adding that he hopes those terms will replace the word "drone" in the years ahead.

"Jim and his incredible talents have enabled us to show off the Binghamton campus in a way few could," said Stenger.
 

Last Updated: 9/17/13