The early morning harmonies of birds and insects in MLK Park are joined by the monotone hum of propellers as aspiring pilots earn their wings at Winter Park Library. A drone camp, presented by the Central Florida Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI), offers practical experience that can take students from a hand-held controller to a cockpit.
TAI honors the legacy of the African American pilots and airmen of WWII, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, through education, civic advocacy, and youth engagement. Winter Park Library houses an archive dedicated to Chief Master Sgt. Richard Hall, Jr., who was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen and a Winter Park resident.
“The 55+ chapters of TAI were founded so the legacy can be kept alive, and to empower the next generation of aviators,” said Central Florida Chapter President Sylvester Terry. The drone camp is among their efforts to promote careers in the aviation and aerospace industries. “We picked drones for their affordability and flexibility – we can teach them in a gym if we need to.”
The Winter Park camp began in 2022 as part of the organization’s post-pandemic return to in-person activities. “Two of our local board members are on staff at Winter Park Library and were able to facilitate our partnership for the camps,” said Terry. “I basically used last year’s lesson plan and edited it with updated information from the FAA, and other practical experience.”
The four-session experience offers hands-on training with camera drones that includes mandatory certification for each pilot. After three sessions, campers have enough experience to take a recreational drone license test. The skillsets are put to use on the last day of the camp, when teams shoot video footage for a multimedia presentation.
“It’s a microcosm of any air traffic situation,” says Terry as he watches two teams during an outdoor session. Flight plans are created and coordinated with spotters who help avoid drone collisions by communicating altitude and proximity with their respective pilots. Campers also communicate their activity via an FAA app that notifies local air traffic control of drones that are operating in the area.
Aside from offering a creative, hands-on experience, the camps are a recruitment tool for TAI chapter memberships that can provide opportunities for more advanced training.
“If you think of it in terms of grade levels, this would be a middle school-level of drone flight,” said Terry of the camp experience. “Those wanting to earn a commercial drone license can go on to that level, and the next, and eventually qualify to pilot an aircraft.”
The skills that are taught in the camp environment can also be offered by TAI at other locations where drone flights are permitted, and Terry hopes for more camps to be scheduled at the library next year.