Learn to fly: Hanover students can graduate with drone license
Students at Hanover Senior High School will be among the first in the nation to learn how to build, repair and fly their own drones.
Superintendent John Scola had been hearing a lot about drone technology and "wanted students to be as prepared as possible to go out in the world," said Lisa Fry, who teaches the school's new drone class.
"He's the mastermind behind this," she said.
It's not too far of a stretch for Hanover Public School District, which has a career-ready focus, offering training in entertainment technology, welding, culinary arts and mechatronics, to name a few.
It's not "technology for technology's sake, but the technology that will lead to career opportunities," said high school Principal Rina Houck.
The course started mid-year and awards students 16 years of age or older a drone pilot license upon completion of a Federal Aviation Administration test in May.
Seven seniors and one junior are enrolled, and the program is fully covered by donations. Private donors are covering the $160 tests, and alumni Kevin Hayward, CEO of paperboard producer Ox Industries, donated money to cover equipment, including professional "maverick" drones costing about $1,200 each.
The other school district offering a drone license in the U.S. is Bonita Springs High School, in Bonita Springs, Florida, which has a dual partnership with an aerospace institute that earns students up to 14 college credits.
About two weeks in, the Hanover Public course has been a learning experience for everyone, including instructor Fry — an art teacher for science, technology, engineering, art and math classes in middle school before she obtained her license in August.
“I was really nervous taking the course, 'cause I’ve never really done anything like this before,” said senior Madelyn Hutton, 18.
Having never played many video games, Hutton said she didn't even know how to control a drone, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.
So far, students have been using flight simulators, flying small indoor drones and using two professional-grade photography drones outside.
"We’re just scratching the surface right now," Fry said.
Hutton said right now they can't fly the drones more than 400 feet in the air.
Students must pay close attention to obstacles, especially trees.
"They’re really a lot harder to fly than I thought they would be," Hutton said.
Assistant Superintendent Susan Seiple said it’s not the first time district students have worked with drones.
“We offer a lot of tech courses, and we offer a STEM course for our seventh graders, and they do a lot of drone flying and experiments and things like that," she said.
But Scola recognized a big market for knowing how to build, fly and repair drones, and knew licenses would open up careers, she said. Real estate agents and wedding photographers use drones for photos, and agricultural drones spray crops, for example.
The average salary for a drone pilot is $80,000, Houck said.
Fry said by the end of the course she hopes to give students "mock jobs" in which they would price a job, take and edit photos and process them as they would for a client.
Junior Owen Myers, 17, said he plans to take the skills into his military career to become a drone pilot in the U.S. Navy. Hutton said she's interested in applying her drone skills in the private sector.
“The business world is changing,” she said, adding that you never know how you can incorporate drone technology.
Hanover's drone course will be offered each semester — right now with a cap of 10 students, Fry said. Her next goal is to install a drone race course on campus.
"The kids really, really seem to be engaged with the material," said David Fry, the district's director of technology. His wife teaches the course.