Drones & Aviation: Fort Payne students will take flight in future million-dollar facility

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:20 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:39 AM CST
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FORT PAYNE, Ala. (WAFF) - Did you have a favorite subject in school? Our guess is that drone flying may not be your first answer.

For a group of students at Fort Payne high school, aviation class with Steven Black is the highlight of their day.

“It’s really different than any other class that we offer here,” Junior student Kali LaGrone said. “It’s not every class that you get to go outside and fly around and have fun every day. It’s also cool to say that I have a commercial license for flying drones because who else has that, you know what I mean?”

This class allows students to practice operational skills with drones. At the end of each semester, students have the opportunity to test for a license, allowing them to fly drones commercially.

Senior Dylan Loudermilk has his eye on a few offers now that he has his license.

“There’s been some part-time opportunities open up already while I’m in high school and after high school, I’m going the military route so flying drones will definitely be useful in that,” says Loudermilk.

Though the students will soon be outgrowing the AV department of Fort Payne High School, the ground will soon be broken on a brand new facility. It will house not only the aviation program, but also construction and electrical engineering.

Superintendent of Fort Payne City Schools Brien Jett shared some perks of the new facility.

“Our new facility is called the BEAT center. Building Electrical Aviation Technology,” Jett said. “The entire building is around 12,000 square foot. The entire building will be severe weather rated. So all 12,000 square feet of the building will be a severe storm shelter along with three classrooms and two construction bays.”

Funding for this new building was graciously granted by Governor Kay Ivey from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) utilizing Southern Appalachian Automotive and Aviation Workforce (SAAW) funds. Jett did not give a date for the completion of the facility.

However, flight instructor Steve Black hopes to continue growing the program so that, one day, the drones can be used for an interschool mailing system similar to the methods now used by Walmart and Amazon.