By Lyndsie Kiebert
The North Idaho High School Aerospace Program has been introducing local students to careers in piloting and building planes for five years.
Now, NIHSAP is hoping to appeal to a new brand of aerospace enthusiasts with their unmanned aerial systems program. Put simply, students will have the opportunity to design, build, program and fly drones.
“The gear-head types want to work on engines, and the students in flight training are interested in careers as pilots. We haven’t drawn in a lot of computer-based people, and we think this program could be a huge draw for them,” said NIHSAP co-founder Ken Larson. “I think (drones) will broaden the appeal to a wider range of students.”
Those interested in getting a closer look at programming drones professionally will have a chance on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Sandpoint High School when the Spokane FPV Drone Racing Club provides displays, demonstrations of various drones and workshops. The day will culminate with professional drone races.
Spokane FPV will also be putting on the halftime show at the Oct. 19 SHS football game — weather permitting — to give attendees a taste of what they might experience at the Oct. 20 workshop.
Larson said the current plan is to implement drone education into NIHSAP’s academic course, which is offered at SHS during spring semesters. He said if there’s enough interest, an extracurricular club might be created exclusively for drone building and flying. Students could even have a chance to earn a remote pilot license — what the FAA calls a license to fly drones up to 55 pounds.
“And skills learned in unmanned technology will transfer into other industries,” Larson said.
In addition to their academic course, NIHSAP currently offers an ACES Workshop, where students meet at the Sandpoint Airport every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to build airplanes that eventually fly. The group is currently restoring a 1945 Taylorcraft. Larson said any interested student is welcome to attend a Saturday morning ACES meeting to check it out.
Students can also receive flight training through NIHSAP.
To join NIHSAP, students must be middle or high school aged, and Larson emphasized that homeschooled kids are welcome.
But why get involved in aviation and aerospace?
“You can hardly think of a career that doesn’t somehow relate to aviation or aerospace,” Larson said, noting he’s had students go on to become everything from air traffic safety specialists to engineers. “There’s an unprecedented shortage of pilots and mechanics and engineers in aerospace, and in the rapidly growing drone industry. It’s almost like there’s never been a better time to be in this industry.”
The drone action on Oct. 20 starts at 11 a.m. with displays and workshops in the SHS gym and on the field behind the gym. Professional drone races begin at 1 p.m. This event is family-friendly and free to attend, but donations will be accepted.
Those with questions about NIHSAP should email Larson at [email protected] Larson said people interested in volunteering for NIHSAP to help with events, web management, grant writing and more should also contact him.
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