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Shop Class Of The Future: Maryland High School Offers Course On Drones

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Students use modified DJI Flame Wheel quadcopters with attached cameras, like the one pictured here.
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Students use modified DJI Flame Wheel quadcopters with attached cameras, like the one pictured here.

A group of high school students in Anne Arundel County are taking a cutting-edge course in the construction and operation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones. Those involved with designing the program say they believe it's the first high school-level program of its kind in the country.

The class was developed as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) magnet program at South River High School. Students learn both the engineering principles behind drone aircraft as well as the practical uses of the technology.

Students also get time to actually learn how to fly the aircraft. WBAL in Baltimore captured some footage of the students testing the craft near the school.

While it may look fun, this is no introductory course. It builds on previous courses taken by the upperclassmen in aerospace and civil engineering, and utilizes skills that span a number of fields like computer science and electronics.

"The class is founded in science and engineering, but is still fun and interesting," said Rolf Stefani of the Annapolis-based engineering and communications company ARINC, in a statement.

Stefani co-developed and currently teaches the class alongside technical education teacher Rob Tompkins.

"We go beyond theory to engage students by, for example, building and then actually flying small UASs to demonstrate the theory of flight," said Stefani. "It's rather challenging to build your own UAS, and it exposes the students to a number of different disciplines."

In addition to offering Stefani's technical expertise to students, ARINC also purchased much of the equipment used in the class.

Students may find their skills are in high demand after graduation, as Maryland is angling to become a hub for the drone industry in the coming years. The state is among the finalists for one of six FAA sites that will be used to study the use of unmanned aircraft systems in commercial airspace. 

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said the industry has the potential to bring as many as 2,500 jobs to Maryland over the next 12 years.

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