A new “flight plan” is being added to the Cleburne High School Career and Technical Education program for students seeking careers in the unmanned aircraft systems industry.
Engineering design and presentation II and senior-level engineering design and problem solving students will soon be able to achieve certification as an Federal Aviation Administration 107 drone pilot.
Instruction introduced in the second semester of the 2019-20 school year will be focused on drone training and all the aspects involved in ultimately achieving the industry-level certification.
Cleburne was able to land this new learning opportunity as one of 10 regional high schools sharing a $700,000 federal grant award as participants in the North Central Texas Aerial Robotics STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — initiative.
Fellow districts in the aerial robotics program include Fort Worth, Azle, Birdville, Crowley, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst Euless Bedford, Keller, Era and Strawn. Partners in the project also include Bell Helicopter, American Airlines, Tarrant County College District, Interlink North Central Texas and Tarrant County Workforce Solutions.
“This will fold right into engineering and expand our robotics program,” Cleburne ISD Superintendent Kyle Heath said. “The drone program will be very much tied to what our kids are learning at CHS. We are looking forward to seeing what interest we receive from students in developing a full aeronautics program within CTE. I’m very excited about this new endeavor and seeing where it will lead for our students.”
With the high school’s close proximity to Cleburne Regional Airport, CHS CTE Director Mark McClure said adding aviation training to course offerings has been on the radar for some time.
“In conjunction with both Hill College and Texas State Technical College in Waco, we have looked at what an aviation program might look like in Cleburne ISD,” McClure said. “We are currently working with them to get some satellite classes at our campus. The Federal Aviation Administration has to okay every step in the process. TSTC is actively pursuing answers from the FAA on how to make it happen.
“Aviation is a high-need occupation area: from pilots and air traffic controllers to mechanics and technicians. This grant allows us to dip our toe in the aviation world. In achieving the FAA 107 certification, our students would be licensed to operate drones that can transport up to 55 pounds in weight. They will be learning about drone programming, flight planning, wind calculations and aeronautical charts.”
Class sets of drones, from the very basic as participants enter the program, to a $25,000 unmanned aircraft for advanced training will be used in hands-on instruction in preparing students for the certification test.
McClure said students will even be able to take it one step further in creating their own drones.
“In our MIT engineering Fab Lab, students can design a drone, create it using the 3D printer and install flight components to ultimately operate a drone they built themselves,” he said. “When we took our engineering students to Lockheed Martin last spring, they saw may engineers working with drones. I think we will have a lot of interest in this new learning component within CTE.
“Anytime you have something this cutting edge, kids are excited. This will give them the opportunity to be trained for future jobs, with specific required skills that few have. We’re preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist right now. That will be definitely exciting to them.”
McClure, Heath and CISD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Andrea Hensley recently traveled to Fort Smith, Arkansas to observe high school aviation programs that are up and running.
“There is a military base in Fort Smith where lots of drones used throughout the world are piloted from,” McClure said. “The governor of Arkansas has made a big push to introduce training in this area for high schools in his state. We got to see kids in their schools doing today what we hope our kids will be doing very soon.
“We also visited an elementary school where high school aviation students were sharing what they were learning. The younger kids were learning from the older how to operate a drone from take-off to landing and they were eating it up.”
Cleburne students graduating with their FAA 107 license can continue on to post-secondary training to pursue various levels of degrees in geographic information systems, aviation engineering and unmanned systems applications—or go straight into the field.
The sky truly is the limit, Heath and McClure said, in developing an aeronautics program at CHS. Both are ready to see the new initiative for students take flight.
“There are so many aspects to the use of drones, that makes the industry really unique,” Heath said. “I think we’ll see more applications for drones over the next several decades. Right now, mostly people fly drones but it will get to the point, industrially, when they will program themselves. There’s still a lot to work out, like air space, but the FAA has a good start on this. It’s pretty wild, when you think about it.”
To be able to involve their students in aviation study feels like the best next step for their CTE program, McClure said.
“The Cleburne Regional Airport is a stone’s throw away and lots of aviation companies are housed there,” he said. “We are working diligently to develop partnerships with them, in the hopes of giving our kids that industry experience alongside what they will be learning in this new program.”