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CHS Lands It's First FAA 107 Certified Drone Pilot


            It was a happy landing for Elizabeth Youngberg in becoming Cleburne High School’s first student to achieve the Federal Aviation Administration 107 Drone Pilot Certification.

Youngberg, who will be a junior, was among several CHS engineering students to undergo the industry-standard FAA exam just prior to the end of the school year. As a member of the Engineering Design I class, offered through the Career and Technical Education program, she received instruction and hands-on experience with classroom drones, which included the construction and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The study and operation of drones has also been added to the curriculum in Cleburne’s advanced Law and Public Safety classes, as students learn about their utilization in search and seizure and rescue operations.

“I’m very interested in a career in engineering,” Youngberg said. “I have had the opportunity to ‘play’ with a drone, but what we have learned, and what we did in class is much cooler than what you can do with a recreational drone.”

“I was the youngest taking the certification test—everyone else was a junior or senior,” she said. “I guess being the only sophomore, I was hopeful I would pass, but my expectations weren’t really high. But I tried as hard as I could. Shortly after we finished the certification test we were given our results. I jumped for joy—I was so happy—and very proud of myself.”

Youngberg said she has always had an interest in learning “how things work.”

“I’ve always been interested in how things work,” she said. “It’s baffling to me and I want to understand. The more I learn, the more I want to know. The 107 pilot certification allows me to operate a drone weighing less than 50 pounds. Now I’m thinking of working towards the license to operate a large unmanned drone.”

Engineering teacher Roel Peña is very pleased to have a certified drone pilot among his students. The drone opportunity was added to the CTE course offerings in 2019-20 following Cleburne’s selection as one of ten high schools in the region to share a $700,000 federal grant award as participants in the North Central Texas Aerial Robotics STEM initiative. Class sets of drones, from the very basic as participants enter the program, to a $25,000 unmanned aircraft for advanced training are used in hands-on instruction in preparing students for the certification test.

“It’s been an honor to provide students, including Ms. Youngberg, with the opportunity to explore being a drone a pilot,” Peña said. “I’m glad her hard work now provides her this certification. Passing the FAA 107 Remote Pilot Test is quite an achievement.”

Career and Technical Education Director Mark McClure also believes the availability of a drone pilot program at CHS is a great opportunity for students, with the growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles in a variety of fields, from transportation to the service industry. Cleburne CTE program recently produced a video involving students, teachers and Superintendent Dr. Kyle Heath to show the use of drones in the food and customer service industries. It can be viewed on the CISD Facebook page.

“The use of drones is expanding at a very fast pace and we are excited to be engaging our students in this emerging field where truly the sky is the limit,” McClure said. “There is already a growing demand for employees with the skill and certification that Elizabeth has mastered. We are giving our students the opportunity to be trained for future jobs, some that may not even exist right now.”

In addition to her successful navigation through the drone certification exam, Youngberg is a member of Cleburne’s Technology Student Association VEX Robotics team that advanced to the state level in skills competition. Team members, who also include Kayden Finley, Bryce Valle and Emily Day placed first at the TSA Regional contest and received Best in Division in qualifying for State competition.

“Elizabeth has consistently been a top student, starting last year in the Principles of Engineering class and continuing into her studies this year in Engineering Design I,” he said. “She has a thoughtful approach that she brings to the table, no matter the topic or challenge.”

In earning her “wings” as a drone pilot, Youngberg also views the achievement as a point in the win column for girls with an interest in science and STEM.

“I don’t think we have enough women engineers,” she said. “I was the only girl who took the certification test that day and the only girl in the drone program at CHS. I’m hoping there will be more next year.”

In the meantime, she is enjoying the moment and her new-found role of “pilot.”

“While I may be Cleburne High School’s first certified drone pilot, I know more are coming. Right now, I’m enjoying the moment,” she said. “I just turned 16 and only have a learner’s permit to drive a car—but I’m a licensed drone pilot. That’s pretty cool.”