Drone Education Takes Off In Southwest Florida
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Politics and Activism

Drone Education Takes Off In Southwest Florida

A long-time professional in the world of aerial photography, Fort Myers-based company Soaring Sky now launches an afterschool program for middle and high school students.


The U.S. government, Amazon, and even kids around your neighborhood are all using or thinking about using drones for military, commercial or recreational purposes.

In August of 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, issued a 624-page publication detailing Part 107, the agency’s answer to the sprawling and until the then unregulated popularity of drones across the United States. The legislation allows individuals to obtain drone aviation certifications that would enable them to fly for commercial purposes, opening up the door to substantial financial opportunities that were previously inaccessible.

Now, a South Florida-based company called Soaring Sky, which has been flying drones since 2014, wants to jump on the education bandwagon and help middle and high school students get the skills they need to take advantage of this rapidly growing industry.

Ryan Cowell is a 24-year-old business graduate from Saint Mary’s College of California. Passionate about technology and building brands, Cowell teamed up with real estate agent Daniel Barres to launch Soaring Sky, a company that sends drone pilots out on assignments like cell tower inspections and real estate video shoots.

Cowell, who co-founded an independent record label called Higher Intelligence in 2012, works out of a third-floor office in Ft. Myers, Florida alongside business graduate Allyson Hanson and engineer Josh Smith, each of whom bring different interests and skills to the business.

Hanson joined the team in January of this year, having worked previously in the admissions department of the University of South Florida.

Josh Smith, a graduate of North Carolina State University, describes himself as a robotics engineer by day and a hobbyist astrophotographer. He publishes his work on his website, called Catching the Cosmos, where he also sells backlit portraits of his photographs.

It’s a small operation, but Cowell says he’s got big plans for the company’s future. One of those goals is already underway.

In January 2017, the company will launch an afterschool program called Soaring Sky Academy which will teach the ins and outs of unmanned aerial systems to middle and high school students in Southwestern Florida.

Adam Winkle, a teacher at Mike Davis Elementary in Naples, Florida, will be teaching the 3-week course a total of eight times a week. Winkle won the Champions for Learning Golden Apple award in 2014, being recognized for the innovative approach to scientific investigation that he presents to students in his Science as Related Arts course.

Hanson, Soaring Sky’s marketing manager, believes the education program will help young kids see drones as more useful devices than just flying toys.

Prices starting at $299 per student, the program will teach students aged 9 to 18 about the forces of flight, basic flight skills, drone design and assembly and more.

The program will be split up into two sessions going on at the same time: one at Florida Gulf Coast University’s main campus in Fort Myers and another at its continuing education facility in Naples. High school students will be in class from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. while middle school sessions will take place 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m..

At the end of the program, each student will take home a Soaring Sky T-shirt, sticker pack and their micro drone to practice with at home.

Elsewhere in Florida and the United States, efforts to bring drone education to students of all ages have begun to take root.

At a community center in Pinecrest, Florida, a group called the Gravity Goons is slated to teach the ins and outs of drone racing and aerial photography twice a week beginning in January.

Meanwhile, at Boynton Beach High in Palm Beach County, Florida, three students have graduated from the school’s Aerospace Science Academy and are now certified pilots equipped with the skills required to perform inspections for utility companies such as Florida Power and Light and assist police departments with search and rescue operations.

In New York, elementary school students learned about drone programming and remote sensing in preparation for the 4-H National Youth Science Day. The program was developed by Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension.

Back in South Florida, Miami Sunset Senior High has partnered with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to deliver an introductory course on unmanned aerial systems. Five days a week, university professor Jose Juncosa the dual enrollment course at the high school, which provides students with three college credits.

Soaring Sky itself has already tried its hand at education, having launched pilot programs at Castaic Middle School in California and Oasis High School in Ft. Myers. The Soaring Sky Academy marks the company’s next venture into the field, and it remains to be seen whether the program will impact students the way Cowell and his team expect it to.

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