Southampton High School students become FAA-certificated remote pilots

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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Three Southampton High School students have passed the Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems exam, which certifies them as remote pilots. 

An SHS news release noted that senior Camari Mitchell, senior Samantha Grassman and junior Jack Smith are distinguished among their classmates as they are now considered Federal Aviation Administration-certificated remote pilots. The students took the Unmanned Aircraft Systems course with SHS’s agriculture teacher Cormanica Crutchfield. 

The FAA requires pilots to be proficient in risk management, flight proficiency, aeronautics (the study and design of air flight machines), safety regulations and recommendations. The rigorous exams feature the following components and more:

  • Maps and coordinates;
  • Weather charts and the impact of weather on the aircraft;
  • Emergency protocols;
  • Communication procedures;
  • Airport operations;
  • Military regulations; and
  • Physiology.

According to the FAA, students must be at least 16 years old to sit for the exam, have adequate English skills and meet physical and mental requirements to operate a drone. Once certified, students are eligible to work as drone pilots. Mitchell plans to use her certification in the criminal justice field.

“I will take a year off and then study criminal justice at Liberty University,” she said. “I want to do profiling. Profiling is studying people’s behavior. I am glad I am certified because I can use this towards my criminal justice degree. I did not know what to expect when I took this class, but I am glad I took it.” 

Mitchell can use drones in her field as the military is building special drones to identify individuals a little more than half a mile away. Law enforcement uses drones to survey areas, track suspects and detect threatening weapons. According to Insider Intelligence, by 2025, drone services are predicted to grow to a $63.6 billion industry. The demand for FAA drone-certified pilots is increasing across several industries. Smith experienced this firsthand as he was given a job opportunity after becoming certified.

“I had mentioned to someone who worked in a water treatment plant that I was certified, and he told me that he needed someone to fly and inspect the (Virginia’s) state water towers,” Smith said. “I might do it as a summer job.”

The students are excited about having career options while in high school. Though Smith shared how he wanted to go into medical school upon high school graduation in 2024, he recognizes the perks of a drone certification.

“Having a certification is always good,” he said. “It is a good backup.”

Grassman stated she took the course to try something different. 

“I took the course to challenge myself,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ This course was one of my favorite classes.”

SHS officials stated that regardless of whether or not the SHS students decide to use their certifications in their chosen careers, they pride themselves in being certificated remote pilots. “These students have made it apparent, nothing can limit their successes, not even the sky,” officials said.