Home Local News Students at RichmondCC Training to Become Licensed Drone Operators

Students at RichmondCC Training to Become Licensed Drone Operators

PHOTO 1: Pictured are the participants of the Drone Academy standing with Ret. Lt. Col. Probyn Thompson, who is the instructor for the 40-hour program, while N’aiyah Dixon operates the drone in front of the group.   PHOTO 2: Ret. Lt. Col. Probyn Thompson, instructor for the Drone Academy, gives student Austin Hadinger some directions as he flies a drone over the lake at Richmond Community College. Assisting Austin is his “crew member” N’aiyah Dixon.
Photo courtesy of RCC


HAMLET – Eight STEM students in a Drone Academy at Richmond Community College are learning how to legally operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (better known as drones) in preparation to earn the certification required to fly drones for commercial purposes. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires people who fly drones for commercial use to have a Remote Pilot UAS Certificate and fly under the Small UAS Rule, 14CFR, Part 107. In North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Transportation also requires a NCDOT UAS Commercial Operator Permit. 

Enrolled in the Drone Academy flight training are eight students between the ages of 14 and 16. In addition to the STEM students are two adult participants, Jeff Epps and Chad Osborne, who are RichmondCC STEM instructors. “Epps” and “Ozzy,” as the students call them, helped orchestrate the Drone Academy and encouraged students in the R.C.C. G.R.E.A.T. Saturday Academy and Summer STEM Camps to sign up. 

“Robotics and automation are the foundations of Industry 4.0,” Epps said. “Drones are basically robots that can fly. When we expose our students to emerging technologies while preparing them to compete in this global economy, it’s a win-win for our students and the community.” 

A network engineer for RichmondCC, Epps has been working with Osborne, a band instructor at Ashley Chapel Educational Center, for many years to promote STEM activities and programs in Richmond and Scotland counties. 

“We don’t really think about TCP/IP connections; we just use Facebook and Snapchat without a second thought. That’s the place that drones will hold in our society in the very near future,” Osborne said. “It very inspiring to be a part of this at RichmondCC. People will use these flying robots to leverage the Internet of Things and master metadata that we have yet to comprehend. It feels like a homecoming — flight was my original passion as a child.” 

Under FAA regulations, a person must be at least 14 to take the Part 107 certification exam, and he or she must be 16 years old to receive the actual Remote UAS Pilot certificate. 

Learning from a Former U.S. Air Force Instructor Pilot 

Teaching the course is Ret. Lt. Col. Probyn Thompson, who has over 30 years of experience planning and executing operations globally for both the military and the private sector. Thompson, who goes by his Air Force call sign (or nickname) of “Probe,” served over 23 years in the Air Force as a fixed wing combat aviator as well as a USAF Weapons School instructor pilot. Prior to retirement, Probe served as an Air Liaison Officer (ALO) for the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg. Probe is now president and CEO of the company he founded, Air Probe UAV, which developed the drone training course and has been contracted to provide both the drone in-flight and Part 107 instruction for the Drone Academy at RichmondCC. 

Probe said the goal of Air Probe UAV’s training program is to teach students to safely fly and operate drones for commercial purposes as “professional aviators” and in compliance with FAA regulations.  

The majority of Part 107 commercial drone operators flying today have only taken and passed a written FAA exam requirement with no flight operations training.  


“We want to teach these students not only the FAA regulations, but how to fly safely and think and operate like professional aviators,” Probe said. “These students at Richmond Community College are getting world-class drone training through an introduction to the technology of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) robotics, autonomous systems, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it relates to their previous studies involving coding. 

“Finally, we introduce and mentor them in one of the most important aspects that is often missing from programs like this: how to turn these valuable technical skills into a business, or the foundation of a career, to earn a living throughout their lifetime,” he added. 

 Probe explained how Air Probe UAV would remain involved with the student program in a “Mentor-Protégé” business relationship.  

“Without the economic aspect of bringing jobs and added services to this community, there would be little financial incentive to invest in such a program,” Probe said. “This has been a real multi-disciplinary team effort from the very beginning. We are also thankful to RichmondCC Small Business Center Director Butch Farrah for having the foresight to introduce all the key players who are now involved in this program that will benefit the Richmond and Scotland County communities economically.” 

About the Drone Academy Training Program 

The Drone Academy consists of approximately 40 hours of classroom lecture, live webinars with guest speakers and distant learning instruction. Fifteen of those hours are dedicated to hands-on, drone-specific flight training, while 25 hours are committed to the Part 107 academic portion of the course. There is homework in addition to the 40 hours of program instruction, and it includes course subject study and assigned readings about the various commercial applications of drones around the world. 

The students recently put their training to work by operating together as multi-person flight crews to fly a drone over the lake at the College’s main campus in Hamlet during a bass fishing tournament. Under the direct guidance of Probe, who served as the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC), students manipulated the controls of a drone while taking pictures with a camera mounted on the drone of the people fishing on the lake. Probe not only instructed them on how to safely operate the drone and not fly directly over people, but he also explained how to frame photos properly and how to position the drone to capture the best photos. 

To learn more about the Drone Academy and drone operation training, contact RichmondCC at (910) 410-1700 or Air Probe UAV at Info@AirProbeUAV.com or (910) 300-7345. 

Editor’s note:  It is the policy of the Richmond Observer to print news release material in its original format, as it was received, with minimal, if any, editorial adjustments. 

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