Soaring After School

Interest in drones is taking off at a Sioux Falls high school. Roosevelt’s Flight Club is believed to be South Dakota’s only drone program at the high school level.

The gym at Roosevelt High School is unrestricted air space, at least after school.

“It’s really cool to go really high up and hover over places that you can’t hover over,” Flight Club member Caleb Johnson said.

Members of Roosevelt’s Flight Club scramble a squadron of drones as part of their twice-a-month meetings. To them, flying a drone is a lot like playing a video game.

“You’re in control of that drone, except this time, you actually have consequences when you crash into things, whereas in a video game, you don’t really have consequences for your actions,” Johnson said.

The Flight Club is made up of 16 members from different backgrounds, but all possess the same fascination with drones.

“We’ve got a trombone player in the pep band, we’ve got a cross-country-star, we’ve got kids involved in student council and kids that don’t have clubs to belong to, so all across the board, and it’s fantastic,” Flight Club adviser Nathan Hofflander said. 

Roosevelt junior Clarissa Fernandez is one of the few girls in the club.

“It’s different because there’s a lot of boys and only like two or three girls, so I guess I don’t feel unempowered, I guess,” Fernandez said.

Club meetings don’t get too deep in the weeds about FAA rules and regulations. The goal is to introduce students to the science of flight and get their imaginations soaring.

“Just exposing the students to technology could change their future career, just one exposure. So if we can get them excited about it and get them in the doors to see what it’s like, they could pursue some career in technology,” Hofflander said.

Flying inside the school requires the students to factor in how air currents from ceiling vents affect their flight plans. Crashing is bad form for the young pilots and isn’t good for the drones, either.

“When I flew in the gym once, I went all the way up and it came crashing down and the cover came off of it. It still flies, but now it leans a little bit,” Johnson said.  

The club has a fleet of 14 drones, most of them paid through a grant from the Sioux Falls Education Foundation. The hope is that other schools will form their own flight clubs.

“Where we can compete with them in drone races, obstacle courses and possibly even jobs for the greater community like Game, Fish and Parks or other communities that need drone footage from the sky,” Hofflander said.

“Our number-one rule is to avoid people, safety first. So we avoid people. We learn procedures how to handle people if they’re uneasy about it,” Hofflander said.

The students sharpen their piloting skills the more flight time they log with the drones.  If other students share the lofty goal of hovering in high school, then join the club.

The flight club’s adviser plans to teach adults how to operate a drone this fall through Community Education.

If you’d like to learn more about the flight club, click here

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