New RAHS course flies high


photos courtesy of Roseville Area Schools A student in Roseville Area High School’s drone technology course flies an unmanned aerial system — a drone — in the school’s cafeteria.

The school’s football field was the frequent site of drone flights this fall.

Teacher Brian Hoag taught the first-ever drone/unmanned aerial systems technology course this fall at Roseville Area High School, which turned out some 20 new Federal Aviation Administration-certified drone pilots.

First class on drones a success

 

Roseville Area High School just produced some 20 new Federal Aviation Administration-certified drone pilots.

The students, from grades 10-12, took the high school’s first-ever offering of a drone/unmanned aerial systems technology course this fall, which culminated with the class taking the FAA’s Part 107 commercial drone exam on Nov. 28.

Media arts instructor Brian Hoag taught the class. He said his son is an air traffic controller and commercial pilot, so aviation interests run in the family, and he was a drone hobbyist until he realized the future potential of the technology.

“This could be something that our kids really should be learning about,” said Hoag, who first pitched the course two years ago as an opportunity for higher level learning.

“I remember when I first proposed [it] at school, literally, administration laughed at me,” he said. 

“‘We don’t want drones flying all over the school!’” he remembers them saying. “You’re missing the point.”

Hoag said companies approached the school even prior to the class convening this fall looking for licensed drone pilots. 

A grant from the Roseville Foundation got the class off the ground, and 32 students showed up for it at the start of the school year.

Shortly thereafter, enrollment thinned out to 26 students. Hoag said some kids dropped the class after they learned how rigorous it would be, not just piloting drones through high school hallways, but also learning about FAA rules and regulations, the National Airspace System, weather, airport operations and radio frequencies — all needed knowledge for licensing.

“Honestly, I think the FAA has a little overkill going on for what we’re doing ...” Hoag said.

 

Future of flight

Though people can be wary of new technology, Hoag said drones already have important uses in the community — the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has used them for search and rescue, for instance — and the RAHS drone course sets students up to be a part of it.

“You start putting these kids out there and they’re going to become a part of the future of this technology,” he said.

Hoag said the class was made up of students from a variety of backgrounds, though an interest in tech was a common thread between them all. Some of the kids were not strong at academics, while at least one in the class had already secured a full-ride scholarship to Harvard. The lowest grade Hoag gave out was a B.

Perhaps the toughest part of the course for Hoag was working out the logistics of having his students take the FAA exam. The federal agency relies on third-parties to administer it, and many are only equipped to give the test to a handful of people at a time.

After a bit of legwork and talking to a person who was well-placed within one of the testing companies, Hoag found a Woodbury venue that would be able to accommodate all 21 qualifying students for the test. Hoag also tested alongside the kids.

Making it through the tight security involved with the test — “I thought the ACT was crazy and that’s nothing compared to this,” Hoag said — 18 of the students passed the two-hour, 60-question exam. Two were turned away because they lacked proper ID, and another barely missed the cut; all three plan to give it another go, Hoag said.

Assuming the three pass the exam, they’ll be able to get in on the pinning ceremony, where RAHS’s drone pilots will get their wings, which Hoag has planned for January. He’s contracted with a South Korean company to make the drone wings, since nobody else does.

Hoag said the drone class will be offered again, and he’s got his sights set on a “Drone II” class, which would delve into the business aspects of drone piloting and what to do with drone-shot video. His enthusiasm for the course is palpable.

“This is my 33rd year of teaching,” Hoag said, “and I told the kids on the last day of class that they were exactly what I needed in my career.”

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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