Jason Unwin has been shooting for the skies since he was 6.
"They used to use these things called penny a pound flights for March of Dimes in Colorado. Whatever you weighed, you bought the flight on a small airplane," he said. "So I was in a small airplane when I was 6 or 7."
He recalled getting interested in rocketry around the time of the Space Race, in the 1960s and 1970s.
"I was basically on my own," he said. "You get an Estes model rocket and build it. Fly it. My brother and I built a little launch pad."
He said his interest continued until after high school, when he joined the U.S. Army. It grew when he worked at a federal prison in Florence, Colorado. He said he needed a hobby.
"Overtime is not a hobby," he said. "You have to have a release because it was a high-security penitentiary."
Unwin's unmanned aircraft interest has expanded to drones.
Last July, Unwin attended a school in Camp Atterbury, Indiana, in July to learn how to fly drones and use them to make maps.
"I started off on a toy to learn how the controls work, then graduated to larger units,” he said. “Used it to learn how to roll right, roll left, yaw, and once we did that, graduated to something bigger."
He said he plans to attend a school next year to learn to fly an even bigger drone.
Unwin’s interest in drones and rockets goes beyond being a hobby.
“I try to use it to help communities, disaster relief, search and rescue," he said.
He also wants to use unmanned aircraft in education. He is a member of the Muskogee STEAM Center board. STEAM means Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. He traces his interest, in part, to the "lost" inmates he met at the penitentiary.
"Whatever we can do to redirect kids away from that into a normal life, or try to get into engineering or science, I think it's a good thing," he said.
Civil Air Patrol
Jason Unwin first joined the Civil Air Patrol in Colorado. He began as a cadet and worked his way up to cadet lieutenant. He went on to be a senior member so he could fly aircraft.
"Trust me, the air in Oklahoma and Texas is glass smooth compared to the air in Colorado," he said. "When you're flying in the mountains, it's like a roller coaster. It's really bumpy. But there's nothing like flying in the mountains. You've got peaks above you and valleys below. You try to keep yourself oriented on the map, know where you're going."
He joined Waco Civil Air Patrol squadron in 2012 and became commander.
Civil Air Patrol has three basic missions: Emergency services, which involves disaster relief, search and rescue; cadet leadership; aerospace education.
Unwin is the aerospace education officer for the Muskogee squadron, as well as Oklahoma squadrons east of Interstate 35.
"I'm also the man developing small, unmanned aerial systems program," he said.
He also is the squadron's professional development officer, a cadet program officer and part of the finance committee.
The Muskogee squadron meets each Tuesday.
"First meeting of the month, we do a safety presentation, character development and safety," he said. "Second Tuesday, team building and drill. Third Tuesday, aerospace education and emergency services. Last Tuesday is physical fitness."
From the bottom
up in photography
Unwin first got involved with photography when he got a cheap 120 film camera as a boy. A 120 film camera makes 60 mm by 61 mm photos.
"I still have my dad's 120 film Graflex, where you have to look through the top down," he said. "I learned to take different pictures."
Unwin uses a Canon T6 Rebel.
"It's fun to go on the manual setting and just play with the ISO, how much light you're letting in, F-stops, shutter speeds," he said. "I kind of experimented with time-lapse photography, slow motion.
He likes shooting all sorts of photos, particularly of star motion.
"You leave the shutter on, and the stars as they move through the sky make little arcs," he said. "There's a program where you can stack pictures. I won first place by taking some pictures of lightning at Fort Gibson and stacking the pictures. Rather than one lightning bolt, there are four hitting the lake and hills there."
Unwin said he likes training the Three Rivers Photography Club offers in lighting, shutter speeds, and other aspects of photography.
Flying drones has been a learning experience for Unwin. He had a little trouble with his first couple of drones.
He recalled flying one drone for a school and getting it too close to some power lines.
"The power lines have an electromagnetic field around them and they suppressed my controller, and it went and flew off in Sand Springs," he said. "The second one, I was trying to do high speed maneuvers, and it wobbled and did a spin into the ground."
Unwin said he learned to take it "slow and easy" when he flies.
"What you have to do is go easy on the controls because sometimes you can overcorrect," he said. "You learn through doing, just like anything else."
He bought his most recent drones at Walmart. One is a $99 24-inch by 24-inch Vivitar for $99, which Upwin said they are phasing out. It has a camera with 1080 pixel width.
"It doesn’t record on an SD card, so I have to get it on my app, and it’s a pain,” he said.
His smaller one, a Kaptur protocol, uses an SD card. It cost about $150.
"But the problem is, the app that works with this doesn’t work with my phone, so I have to eyeball where I want it,” he said. “It comes out pretty good."
Unwin said one drone can be programmed to fly a course and map out an area.
"You can map out an area for disaster relief or take pictures and download those pictures to look for a lost person, lost aircraft," he said.
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
"My wife has family here. My in-laws were retiring from running a storage facility in Waco. We looked in Tahlequah, Fort Gibson, but Muskogee had what we wanted."
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
"Pretty much the weather. Not as cold as Colorado or hot as Waco."
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
"A good walking trail system, like walking the Arkansas River. Waco has a big park along the Brazos River, and it was visually interesting. Every day, you walk along the pathway and there were animals — herons, turtles, birds, ducks geese — just amazing all the different animals you see on the trail or the dam. Pueblo had the same thing."
WHAT PERSON IN MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
"My wife. She sticks with me with all my craziness."
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
"Joining Civil Air Patrol. It's a good organization. Capt. Wapaha is a good leader. He and I are both former Army guys. I like Civil Air Patrol."
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
"I run a Facebook page for an aircraft museum in Pueblo — Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum. I like to refer to it as the Drudge Report of aviation, military history, aerospace, science. What I do is news articles about advancements in space, aviation, military history. We got 4,000 followers."
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
"Good all-around American town. It's middle America."
MEET Jason Unwin
HOMETOWN: Pueblo, Colorado.
EDUCATION: Centennial High School; Colorado State University, Pueblo.
MILITARY SERVICE: Commissioned in U.S. Army Field Artillery at Fort Sill, 1983-1992.
PROFESSION: Disabled due to head injuries. Worked at a federal prison.
FAMILY: Wife, Debra; three children; 14 grandchildren; one great-grandchild.
CHURCH: Seeking a church.
HOBBIES: Drones, rockets, photography. Playing war games with military miniatures.