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East County Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2018 8 months ago

New class takes off at Braden River

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Applied engineering class puts emphasis on drones.
by: Amelia Hanks Community Reporter

Devin Quinones, a junior at Braden River High School, gripped a controller tightly in his hand as his first drone flight began.

Quinones was flying a drone, even though he wasn’t exactly sure how it worked.

“I wasn’t nervous, I grew up with video games,” Quinones said. “It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

Quinones flew the drone 200 feet in the air, though the drone could legally fly 200 feet higher. The camera in the bottom of the drone showed him everything below.

“Hey, I can see my house,” he said.

Quinones is one of the students in Braden River’s inaugural “applied engineering with an emphasis in drones” class, in which the school partners with DARTdrones, a national drone training and consulting firm. The students experienced their first flight days with the drones Sept. 13-14.

It is the first time DARTdrones has hosted an instructional program that results in students earning a commercial piloting license. No other school in Manatee County is hosting the DARTdrones pilot program.

Maureen Hudson, who is teaching the class of approximately 20 students, said the school has invested about $30,000 to buy drones.

“I never look at something and say, ‘Oh that’s not for high schoolers,’” Hudson said. “I’m trying to send them out into the world with a skill.”

Hudson said commercial drone pilots can fill jobs ranging from real estate photographer to an emergency worker who does search and rescue. To receive a drone pilot’s license, students have to be 16 or older. As soon as they get their license, they are eligible for work.

“My students will immediately be able to go into a career making money,” Hudson said. “My goal is to send kids out of here with a skill, and getting their license is exciting.”

The class is an elective, which means it isn’t required to graduate, but students do earn credits.

DARTdrones instructor Michael Uleski said students can earn a healthy salary depending on how they use their skills.

Sophomore Griffin Hudson was having a good time flying one of the drones during the flight days class, and according to Maureen Hudson, who is also his mom, he showed excellent technique.

“I’ve flown a drone before. We have one at home,” Hudson said. “But this is brand new technology, and it’s really exciting that we’re able to learn about it and use it.”

Freshman Cristina Ramirez said she will take the class as a sophomore. She took a trial flight Sept. 13 and loved the experience.

“I could hear my heart pounding as it took off,” Ramirez said. “It was easier than I expected, though.”

Students will do 120 hours of ground school, where they learn about drones in the classroom. They will then practice flying. When training is complete, they will sit for their FAA commercial drone pilot license exam. After that, the sky really is the limit.

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