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Belton New Tech students take to the skies with commercial drone pilot licenses

Joshua Ely and Drew Leinhart passed the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 exam, the first in the school's program to earn the license.
Credit: Belton New Tech High @Waskow
Two Belton New Tech High @Waskow students, Joshua Ely and Drew Leinhart pose with a drone in front of the school's dragon logo.

BELTON, Texas — Two students at Belton New Tech @Waskow High School may be taking to the skies soon, having earned their official commercial drone pilot licenses.

17-year-olds Joshua Ely and Drew Leinhart recently passed the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 exam, becoming the first students out of the 48 currently in the drone program to earn the license.

New Tech began offering the program in Fall of 2022.

“We are so proud of Joshua and Drew and their teacher, Matthew Mastrilli,” Stephanie Ferguson, director of career readiness, said. “They’ve put in the hard work to learn the necessary skills and the time to practice the craft. We hope this industry certification helps launch Joshua and Drew into their future careers.”

Teacher Matthew Mastrilli said the federal test covers everything from airspace classification to weather to airport operations to maintenance and much more.

“A lot of the content exposes students to knowledge a pilot needs in order to share the skies with larger crafts,” he said. 

Ely and Leinhart logged many hours of flight and cataloged the footage they shot while flying the drones as part of the program.

“These flights could range from cinematography to inspection and allow students to build portfolios to show specific work examples,” Mastrilli said. “There are so many opportunities for students to start working in the drone industry. The industry doesn’t care how old they are as long as they are certified. This class gives students real opportunities to start exploring this career field before they leave New Tech.”

Ely said he hopes to put his license to use right away and start doing local freelance work.

“I am passionate about video production, and I knew this was an opportunity that not a lot of other schools offer yet,” Ely said. “I like being able to create video and seeing what the world looks like from a bird’s eye view.”

Mastrilli said the school is already beginning to make connections with local businesses and content creators to allow students to get hands-on experience filming aerial photography around the community.

The drone program is only in its first year at the school, but Mastrilli hopes that more students will join the program in the coming years as they realize how many job opportunities it can open up.

“My next goal for the students is to start partnering with state entities so we can assist in gathering visuals with the drones to gain infrastructure funding from federal infrastructure programs,” he said. “No joke — the sky is truly the limit.”

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