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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/JANELLE JESSEN Jonathan Solarzano (from left), Hunter Guest, Sheena Slate and Maggie Mathe, all students at Siloam Springs High School, pilot a drone.

SILOAM SPRINGS -- The high school is offering students the opportunity to learn more about unmanned aircraft and preparing them to earn a pilot's license in a new drone class.

The yearlong class, offered for the first time this fall, has generated a lot of student interest, said teacher Megan Denison. It is a part of the career and technical education program. Denison said it focuses on the basics of flight, troubleshooting, repairs, laws on flying and possible careers. It also covers video editing and thermal imaging.

Students will be prepared to take the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 licensing test for piloting small unmanned aircraft.

The class is broad and appeals to students who are interested in a number of career fields, including film and television, engineering, agriculture, and search and rescue, as well as those who are just interested in what they can do with drones, Denison said.

The school offered two periods of the class to juniors and seniors this year, and both classes are full with 46 students, she said. Underclassmen have expressed a lot of interest in taking the class, Denison said.

Many students are already interested in drones or may even have their own, but the class provides adult supervision and career guidance, Denison said.

"Kids have this technology anyway and a lot of times they don't see the career applications for it and they don't necessarily understand the safety aspect of it until they have an adult guide them," Denison said.

Denison and her husband Michael earned their unmanned aircraft licenses in July 2017. Her husband was interested in using drones for his business and she wanted to use drone footage for athletic event coverage.

"That kind of evolved into 'What can I do with this,'" she said. "I wanted to be able to get information into the hands of students."

Denison said she received a lot of support from the school board and the district for starting the class, as well as a financial investment of $26,000 of equipment, including two large drones, a medium drone and three slightly smaller ones, thermal imaging equipment and software.

Senior Johnathan Cradduck said he has been flying drones and model airplanes for six years through several local model airplane clubs. His interest spread to fellow senior Max Ketcher, who began racing quad-copters with him.

"I'd say unmanned aircraft are the forefront of technology at this point," Cradduck said. "So it's really important that we educate young people on how to correctly use them because nowadays we are having people who are doing crazy things like diving a bridge or flying over football stadiums and that's not OK. But if we educate students now they won't be making these mistakes later because they will know the implications and it's also great if you want to go into the business of making money [by filming] from the air."

To get to the point where they are ready to fly full-sized drones, students have to pass a written safety test, then practice with small drones for a while to learn the mechanics of maneuvering. Denison set up games in the courtyard for students to practice piloting skills.

Ketcher described the thrill of piloting a drone as an out-of-body experience.

"It's really weird that whenever you are flying, you can look at yourself and you're like 'This isn't me, this is someone else, this is a different point of view,'" he said.

Senior Mercedes Swift said it took her a while to learn the controls but now she enjoys maneuvering the drones independently. She initially took the course to add to her film and cinema program, but soon found a new hobby.

Swift and the other students in the class attended Drone Con in Beebe in October. Swift won a drawing for a new drone.

"I looked at those opportunities at Drone Con and it helped me realize there are a lot more careers out there for drones than just emergency procedures or ag," she said.

Swift plans to be a social worker and doesn't see herself going into a career that uses drones, but Ketcher and Cradduck might.

Ketcher said he is considering a military career or starting his own business.

Craddock plans to become a commercial airline pilot or go into aerospace engineering.

NW News on 11/22/2018

Print Headline: Siloam Springs drone class popular among students

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