Amelia Ferrell Knisely, Nashville Tennessean
Two Nolensville High students have become their school’s first certified drone pilots, and the pair hope the federal recognition will help them get their business off the ground.
Andrew Dunn and Mitchell Waller, both rising seniors, recently passed the aeronautical test required to become a certified remote pilot with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“They both would meet me after school and on weekends to practice their pilot skills and to study for the FAA Remote Pilot certification test,” said Elvia Klym, who teaches the Unmanned Aerial Systems course at NHS—the first of its kind in the state.
“They both put in the extra work, and it has paid off,” said Klym.
In the course, students learn the nuts and bolts of unmanned aircraft systems–technology that allows the pilot to get an aerial view by using a hand-held transmitter.
The teens are introduced to aerial systems, computer programming and federal regulations for UAS, along with hands-on instruction for piloting the devices.
UAS, commonly known as drones, were first introduced for military uses. But, in the last decade, the market for commercial drones has exploded, creating jobs in real estate, media, agriculture, construction and security.
Commercial drones are expected to bring 100,000 jobs and $82 billion to the U.S. by 2025, according to an economic report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
In 2016, the drone industry employed around 385 people in Tennessee, that same report notes.
The growing field led Nolensville High to enable students to understand the emerging technology.
“Ever since a young age, I was interested in planes and aviation. I took the class and got even more interested in it,” Dunn said. “Then, I realized it could potentially be profitable if I could get a summer job with it, so that’s when I decided to take my test to become licensed to be able to do something like that.”
The FAA implemented regulations in 2016 that require commercial drone pilots to obtain remote pilot certifications.
The certification enables remote pilots to legally make a profit by selling photos, delivering goods and more.
Dunn and Waller spent the last year prepping for the test, which Dunn explained includes questions on flight plans, charting weather, airspace and airport regulations, along with questions on UAS.
“What makes it (the test) hard—in my personal opinion—is it asks you questions about manned aircrafts, like if you’re actually in a plane flying, which doesn’t apply to me,” Dunn said.
The students both passed the $150 certification exam in June.
“I am very proud of them and excited to see what is next for them as seniors at NHS,” Klym said.
It was Klym who inspired the teens to launch a business offering aerial photos to local real estate offices.
Their business is called Next Generation Filming, and Dunn said they’re currently advertising their drone services on social media.
“We have sample videos on YouTube,” Dunn said. He hopes the business will turn into a career flying UAS.
A few days after passing the test, Dunn purchased his own entry-level professional drone—a Phantom 4 Advanced by DJI. With recording capabilities at 4K and 30 minute flight time, the FAA-compliant drone is an investment into the business plan.
“It’s basically like the ones we used for school,” Dunn said.
Students in the NHS course have the opportunity to receive dual credit through Middle Tennessee State University.
In 2015, MTSU began offering a concentration in UAS under its aerospace program—one of only a handful of similar programs in the country.
The program has since had six graduates, according to Dr. Kevin Corns, assistant professor of aerospace and UAS program director at MTSU.
Along with passing the exam, Dunn received dual credit through MTSU.
Waller was awarded the NHS Unmanned Aerial Systems award, according to the school.
Reach Amelia Ferrell Knisely at email@example.com, 615-210-8286 or follow @ameliaknisely on Twitter