Community Education

Drone pilot training on the horizon for Peninsula and Gig Harbor high school students

Posted on August 4th, 2022 By:

Peninsula and Gig Harbor high school students will have the chance to train for drone pilot certification starting this spring, the Peninsula School District announced Wednesday.

Students in the district’s Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) will also be eligible for the classes, which will teach students how to fly drones and earn a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. Students 16 years old or older will be eligible to test with the FAA for their certification after they pass the course.

NJROTC Command Master Chief Darrel Hood demonstrates to advanced aerial education instructor Joe Mendoza how to perform basic maintenance on an aerial drone during his drone certification course on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022 at Peninsula High School. Danielle Chastaine/Peninsula School District

Drone training ‘opens a lot of doors’

Drone training will be part of Peninsula School District’s Career and Technical Education program. Erin O’Neill — the district’s executive director of college, career and life readiness — said the department is working out details of the drone certification program and NJROTC training.

“This opens a lot of doors for our students,” O’Neill said. “Many students will think of videography and photography, but drones are used in agriculture, oil fields, oceanography, search and rescue, the military, and so much more.”

The district has already purchased multiple drones for students to use while earning flight hours.

“We will have a few less expensive models that students can learn and practice with, but for each class we are getting a couple of high-quality drones so they can see the video capacity and other uses drones have in many industries,” O’Neill said.

A small aerial drone undergoing maintenance sits on a desk at Peninsula High School during a drone certification course provided by Advanced Aerial Education on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Danielle Chastaine/Peninsula School District

Teachers took training this summer

Teachers spent 80 hours over two weeks in class at Peninsula High School this summer learning how to fly drones and qualify for FAA certification. Training was provided by Joe Mendoza of Advanced Aerial Education, an Alaska-based drone pilot education organization.

District staff who took part in the training were Gig Harbor High teacher Samuel Tilly; Peninsula teacher Mick (Anthony) Flaaen; retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Darrell Hood; Command Master Chief Robert Stockton. The latter two are NJROTC instructors.

Hood’s background is in air traffic control. He sees drone certification creating opportunities for his cadets in many industries.

“Once you get the certification in this course, you can go fly for a real estate company, you can go fly for a power company, you can go fly for a photographer. Anything like that you’re going to be compensated for, this is what you have to get. I see there’s going to be lots and lots of opportunities for drones in the future,” Hood said.

The district will release more information about the course during the 2022-2023 school year.

NJROTC Commander Robert Stockton demonstrates how to use drone controls and capture video footage. Stockton was participating in a drone certification course at Roy Anderson Field on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Danielle Chastaine/Peninsula School District