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Get ready for some high-speed flying action Mountain Home!
Mountain Home’s NJROTC drone team will be hosting its first-ever Droneaggedon competition against six NJROTC teams from four different states this Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in both of Mountain Home High School’s gymnasiums.
Each team will complete in five different events: rally, relay, lap, slalom, obstacle course, and an IFR event that will see each student navigate a course while blindfolded.
There is no cost to attend the event. Lunch will be available for $5.
“The seven teams are packed. We’re running both gyms now,” said Jason Williams, NJROTC instructor for Mountain Home High School. “Papa Johns is giving us the pizza. So, we have pizza and soda. Holy Smokes donated their pork nachos, a lot of pork nachos to us. So, we’re going to have nachos and soda for $5, and then Town and Country donated hot dogs and everything we need for it.”
The Droneaggedon competition is a part of a larger strategy to get young high schoolers interested in flying drones. Williams, a former drone pilot who flew missions for the U.S. Navy, is seeking to have each of his cadets obtain their recreational and commercial drone licenses while in the program.
A commercial drone license opens up several job opportunities to students, who could potentially see themselves landing jobs in the $60,000 to $90,000 range after obtaining their license.
Each team member on Mountain Home’s drone team has their recreational license, except for newcomer Justin Rula, who just recently joined the NJROTC program. Cadet Ensign Johnathon Mason, the drone team’s Commander, completed his commercial license over the summer break.
Mason, the son of Army veterans Lee and Kelly Mason, recently won a scholarship to attend the National Flight Academy (NFA) in Pensacola, Florida.
“For the commercial drone license, you basically have the choice to either take an online course to prepare you for it or study on your own,” said Cadet Johnathon Mason. “The fee for taking the actual test is $175, and it’s a 75 question test. For studying, I went through the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, where I went through a program through the summertime over aviation. So, I used that as my study time.”
Students who take the commercial license exam will have to study topics like airspace classification and operating requirements, flight restrictions affecting small, unmanned aircraft operations, and radio communication procedures.
The cost for the recreational license is $5, and an easier quiz is required. A drug screening is required for both licenses.
“I offered it as extra credit, and it’s not a hard course for them,” Wiliams said. “That way, when we take those [drones] outside and let them fly, they’re good. They know the rules.”
Mountain Home’s drone team currently has six drones, all Eachine E-58 models, available to compete. The team is currently flying four drones while keeping two in reserve for spare parts and emergencies.
The NJROTC team also has a DJI drone and wants to expand its lineup with a racing drone.
“I’m going to put on the budget to get two more of those drones, the DJI ones,” Williams said. “And an actual—no kidding—racing drone, to let them play around with it. And then three more competition drones.”
The U.S. Navy does not officially fund Mountain Home’s NJROTC program. The program, which has seen a decline in students over the recent years, lost its funding before Williams took a job at the school.
Thankfully, generous donors have kept the program alive through various donations. An anonymous couple recently donated $12,000 to the program to buy students new uniforms, purchase some additional drone supplies, and cover the cost of students seeking their commercial license.
“They wanted the cadets to look good and feel proud. It was a real big shock,” Williams said.
Cadets on the drone team have been practicing their skills on Saturdays, often in four-hour sessions, to prepare for this Saturday’s big event.
The rules for the event are easy to follow and understand. Each team member of every team must compete in all five of the competitions a the Droneaggedon.
While competing, members will be timed as they work through the course. After each occurrence a student crashes to the floor, hits an obstacle, or misses the landing zone, time is added to their score. Each score is then combined for a total team score.
Williams said the events are taking place across two gymnasiums to separate the slow events, such as the blindfold event, from the fast ones.
The team with the lowest score wins.
“I think I’m going to do good, but I don’t think I’m going to do the greatest that I can,” said Cadet Justin Rula. “I haven’t had the practice that I need to. The hardest thing is probably rotating it and moving at the same time.”