In 2016 Sgt. Tony Reid, was a corrections officer at Rikers Island, a jail in New York City, working with incarcerated adolescents 16 to 18 years old. For 8 long years, he witnessed first-hand the plight of young men of color who became the casualties of an environment of poverty, crime, and violence. Many bright young men became ensnared in a life cycle of neglect, drugs, and crime; spending their time either on the street or behind bars. Either place could lead to dangerously grave consequences.
He began to imagine a way out for these young people and decided he wanted to do something to break the chain.
It was in August of the same year that the FAA created the first-ever Remote Pilot Certification* for civilian Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs). Sgt. Reid received his certification in September of 2016 and his drone career took off.
Sgt. Reid founded DroneTECH UAS and the concept of Drone Cadets was born. He began doing workshops, demonstrations, and hands-on drone flight training for kids. It wasn't long before he was invited into local schools and began helping incorporate drones into their STEM curriculums.
Whenever kids asked about becoming a drone pilot, he talked to kids about the narrow road that they must follow to stay in school, learn and reach success in life.
In 2017 Sgt. Reid partnered with DroneBlocks to expand his curriculum to include coding. He also began his worldwide mission, bringing drones to hurricane disaster-ridden countries like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Curacao. While there he worked to help provide relief, conduct infrastructure inspections, and he brought a needed distraction to children devastated by loss. He taught them to fly!
In 2018 Sgt. Reid joined forces with Grace Cantwell of Drone Wonders to teach children in underserved communities to fly drones responsibly. Ms. Cantwell's experience as a marketer and professional development trainer, bringing STEM tech tools to schools, taught her that there was no better tool than drones to engage students. It wasn't long before they realized that together, their unique knowledge, insights, and experience could create a richer, more effective Drone Cadets program than ever before.
The "Tony & Grace Show" soon helped fuel the demand among students, parents, and administrators for further, more comprehensive drone training. New curriculum, missions, activities, and technology were added, and by the end of 2018 Drone Cadets had launched Level 1 and Level 2 followed by Level 3 in January of 2019.
Robert Stipak joined the Drone Cadets team in 2019, bringing his technical knowledge of computers and electronics, helping to enhance our ability to teach drone repair and fabrication.
By this time Drone Cadets had taught more than a thousand students to code, fly and repair drones. Our unique method of training has been designed to build character by incorporating ethics, responsibility, safety, and teamwork.
As students grew in age and knowledge, they were encouraged to pursue a career in drones and offered the option of completing their FAA Remote Pilot Certification through our alliance with Drone Lecture.
The real success story is about the kids we’ve helped save. We’ve witnessed the power of drones to open doors and change lives. We’ve spoken to grateful moms. We’ve heard from teachers and counselors. Most importantly, we’ve seen the reluctant student suddenly drawn to the center of the activity. We’ve watched the shy student find the courage to lead the class. We’ve witnessed the angry, detached child calm down, think, focus and become engaged, with a learning mindset.
Who knows how many lives could be saved by allowing kids to excel on a path that could lead to a career that provides a living wage, without college?
In early 2020 the new Drone Cadets partnership was launched to bring scalable drone education to schools, after-school programs, and underserved youth. The onset of COVID-19 accelerated our plans to Go Virtual, and by the end of 2020 Drone Cadets has trained students virtually, nationwide.
As the world of drones becomes more diverse and complex, so will our ability to add new courses, incorporate new technology, and develop better vocational drone training, not just for pilots; but for technicians, coders and data engineers, and flight ops personnel. Demand is on the rise, and Drone Cadets is committed to helping develop a workforce that's in lock-step with the need of employers. The Corps of Drone Cadets will grow right along with the demand.
It is our sincere mission to help break the chains that bind so many, by offering an incentive and an alternative to the high cost of college through drone training. We’re dedicated to helping build the ethics and character of our youth while feeding the fertile young minds of our world’s future leaders.
*FAA's small drone rule under Part 107 was announced June 21, 2016, and went into effect on August 29, 2016. Under this new rule, civilians could become commercial drone pilots by passing an Airman Knowledge Test to receive their FAA Remote Pilot Certification.