Mountain Home’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) unit will be hosting a drone competition that will see eight units from four states compete in five events for the “DRONAGEDDON” Traveling Trophy.
The NJROTC units competing Feb. 5 will hail from Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
“We’re going to make it free entry, and we’ll have a donation bucket out there if people want to donate,” said Jason Williams, NJROTC instructor. “It’s huge for ROTCs. There are so many schools that I’ve had to turn down. Schools in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida wanted to join the competition. We wanted to kind of keep it small this year since it’s our first one.”
The program is a part of a larger effort by the Navy’s ROTC program to get students interested in flying drones. Williams, a former chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, flew drones to support MARSOC and ODA units during an 18-month tour in Afghanistan.
He said his goal is to have students receive their recreational and commercial drone licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, which should help them secure jobs in the $60,000 to $90,000 range.
“With some of these kids, if we can get them the type 107, the commercial drone operator, these guys are looking at making like $64,000 right upon graduation,” Williams said. “So, the guys who do drones for realtors make about 64, and the guys who do drones for power lines and pipeline inspections, those guys are making like $80,000 to $90,000 a year.”
To become a commercial drone pilot, a person must pass the Part 107 Federal Aviation Administration test. For students to take the exam, they must be at least 16 years old, speak and write English, and be in good physical and mental health.
The students must then pay $160 and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG).” They will be required to retake the test every 24 months to prove that they have retained their knowledge.
Students can expect to be tested on airspace classification and operating requirements, flight restrictions affecting small, unmanned aircraft operations and radio communication procedures.
A drug screening is also required to become licensed. Students seeking a recreational license can pay a $5 fee to receive the permit. No testing is required.
“So right now, I’m not recommending anyone under 16,” Williams said. “Even then, because of the required additional education every two years, I’m only looking to get juniors and seniors. But we’re trying to get everyone to get their recreational license for all the cadets who are interested in drones.”
Williams is currently in the process of receiving his commercial license and hopes to expand the program to become a full class that can be taught during the school semester.
He is also looking for funding to help cover the cost of the license for students at Mountain Home High School. The school’s NJROTC program is currently not funded by the Navy due to a drop in student participation over the past few years.
The program needs 100 cadets to receive funding from the Navy. It currently has 73 students enrolled.
“Those are the competitions ones, and the ones next to them are the academic ones,” said Williams as he displayed a brochure of drones. “They’re authorized to purchase. Since I’m not a funded unit, I had to pay for that out of our budget since it wasn’t planned. It’s money that I have to pull from somewhere else.”