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New Elizabethton High School drone program can lead to FAA remote pilot certificate

Contributed • Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 7:25 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The conversation in education has lately revolved around how to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist.

The new small Unmanned Aerial Systems course, which began this semester at Elizabethton High School, prepares students for emerging careers in drone operation. After completing the course, students will be prepared to test for the remote pilot certificate, which qualifies them for a variety of jobs, and prepares them for a rapidly evolving field.

“I think the careers with this license are unlimited because the jobs these guys are going to get into mid-career haven’t even been developed,” said Aviation and sUAS instructor Dan Mills.

Numerous sUAS jobs already exist in the public and private sectors, and Mills said he expects those to increase. With the low associated cost and risk, he said there is a lot of potential uses for drones. “They could be checking power lines, delivering AEDs in an emergency, or using heat seeking technology to find a downed aircraft,” he said. “This is just another tool in their toolbox.”

The course is one of only a few of its kind in the state and is available to students who have completed two prerequisite courses in either Engineering or Aviation. Upon course completion, testing for the remote pilot certificate is optional. All students currently enrolled plan to test for theirs.

The certificate is awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration and recognized nationwide. Students say the coursework is giving them a good understanding of regulations related to drones and helping them predict how those laws and careers may evolve. Senior Lucien Tester said it is a good application of principles they learn in other classes like physics, fundamentals of aviation, and programming.

“This has been a lot of fun, and it’s something we can do as a hobby or a career,” Tester said. “This is what I plan to do as a career, perhaps with aerial photography for real estate or weddings. There’s an sUAS program at Northeast State (Community College) that I’m interested in, so the fact that I can get my license before enrolling gives me an advantage there.”

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