Brownstown Central High School adds drone class

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BROWNSTOWN — With administration pushing for more hands-on classes, Brownstown Central High School business teacher Luke Cobb received an email about a new class offering.

Principal Joe Sheffer and guidance counselor Derrick Koch asked if he would want to teach a drone class.

“I had a personal drone already, so I was fine flying it. I had never done it on this level,” Cobb said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. It sounds awesome, and it’s a good opportunity for the kids.’”

After a couple of Zoom meetings with SkyOp, the company that does the curriculum, he got a feel for the cost it would take to get the program started at BCHS.

Then over the summer, he took drone training and instruction and passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s remote pilot certificate (Part 107) exam that’s required to be a commercial drone pilot for small unmanned aircraft systems.

He had to learn the FAA’s numerous laws and regulations, know all of the drone parts and terms, learn how to read aviation charts and practice flying a drone.

“That’s a big part of the 107 is being able to read air spaces and just making sure you are abiding by the law because as you go outside, you’re in national air space, so it’s a big deal,” Cobb said.

During the first and second trimesters this school year, Cobb is teaching the drone class. Those 25 students are taking the same course their teacher did and will have an opportunity to take the Part 107.

“You can go fly with a drone outside recreationally if you’re just doing it for fun. It’s pretty easy, just a quick online certificate,” Cobb said. “To be able to fly outside for education and any commercial application, you have to have a 107 to do it. Since I’m 107 certified, one of (his students) can be flying the drone as long as I am there. It allows us to go outside and to do some cool stuff because it’s a lot cooler outside than it is in the gym.”

He’s teaching 14 kids in the first trimester and will have 11 the second. Most are juniors and seniors, but a couple of sophomores with either an interest in aviation, drones or STEM were picked for the class.

“We did trial by fire. We immediately went and said, ‘Hey, here’s a drone. This is a controller. Mess around with it,’” Cobb said of the start of the class. “These are our indestructible drones. These things can take beatings. They’ve hit walls. They’ve hit the ground. They’ve flipped upside down. They can take anything.”

Once they got a feel for that, the students did simulations on the computer, where they tried flying different models of high-dollar drones.

“There are so many different types of drones that you can fly, so they are getting a feel for that, just more flight time,” Cobb said.

Next, the students earned their recreational flying license, called a TRUST certificate.

“If they had a drone at home, they went and got a drone, they borrowed a drone, they could fly recreationally anywhere in the United States,” Cobb said. “I made sure to get that one done. I had several kids who have drones already just as a toy, and they are like, ‘Hey, I can use this thing now.’”

Now, they have an option of taking the commercial exam. Cobb said that has to be done at an exam facility with the closest ones being in Louisville, Madison and Greenwood.

“The FAA takes it pretty seriously. You have to go to a full exam facility to take it,” he said. “I know I’ve already had three kids say they were going to take it. When we’re not flying, we cover those materials, the SkyOp curriculum. They have all of the exam questions. They have all of the air spaces. We look at the sectional charts.”

Cobb said his students have been flying drones in the school’s auxiliary gymnasium, gymnasium and auditorium on multiple occasions so far this trimester, and they also spent time outside the school one day taking drone photos and videos. Some of the photos recently were shared on the school’s Facebook page.

The flying time has allowed the students to see drones are more than a toy, Cobb said.

“They’ve realized the opportunities that lie within drone flying, and several of them find it really enjoyable,” he said. “It’s kind of like playing a game. You’ve got a little controller. You’re watching your screen. You’re watching your drone. You’re flying around. We have a lot of aviation kids who want to be pilots, so it’s kind of helping them realize, ‘Hey, this is something that I’d like to do.’”

Senior Isiaah Engle said of the elective options for this trimester, the drone class seemed the most fun, and he’s glad he was chosen to be part of it.

“I’ve gotten a lot better at it,” he said of flying drones. “I’ve learned more what drones are used for than what I did. Then how to just fly it a lot better.”

Classmate Bryce Peak said he used to fly drones just for fun. Now, he’s getting certified and could actually make money by doing it.

“A couple months ago, my brother-in-law threw it out there that they have spraying drones now for farm and ag, so he wanted me to try to get into it because he thought I would be good at it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got this drone class coming up. I can get certified.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you should take it.’”

Through flying and using the simulator in class, Peak said he has learned a lot.

“It has been pretty fun,” he said. “It has definitely taught me a lot about drones in general and the laws and all that type of stuff.”

Senior Cody Burnside said he has used a drone on his family’s farm to check crops, and now taking the class at school, he realizes he could make a career of that or have it as a side job.

“I’m learning to control it better, not as choppy,” he said. “There’s a lot out there that they use them for. It’s enjoyable.”

Junior Jayda Clodfelder said she’s glad to have a unique class offering at school. Before that, she had never flown a drone.

“I think it’s fun, and it’s a different thing for the students to do and get more hands-on experience,” she said.

Later on this trimester, Cobb said he hopes to get the students out of the classroom to do work for people who use drones. That includes surveyors, real estate agents, farmers, utility workers and the military.

“I’m hoping to be able to get kids to see there’s a business here — drone pilots get paid extremely well — that they can get paid a lot,” he said. “Depending on the drone, you can get a lot of applications. There are some cool abilities and pictures to take, and I think the kids are getting pumped for it.”

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