Above It All

Inside Goodwill’s drone pilot training program

By Sasha Manley

Goodwill has always been known for its many thrift stores — with a wide variety of gently used clothing, home goods, electronics, books and more. But did you know they also offer training classes? Their most recent course takes students to new heights with its free drone pilot training class.

The training

The future of aviation is happening now. Drone technology is changing the way we capture moments with pictures and video. Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont understands the importance of this technological advancement by providing this resource to the community.

The “Introduction to Commercial Drones (UAS/Drone Part 107 Prep)” class gives students hands-on experience to legally fly manual drones in eight weeks. With flexible scheduling, the training is offered on weekday evenings to accommodate students’ work schedules and other daily obligations.

Training classes are held at the Goodwill Construction Skills Training Center at 71335 Alleghany St. in Charlotte. No prior experience is required, and all course materials are provided, including computers. Many students already have drones and bring them to class.

As a Federal Aviation Administration commercially rated pilot instructor, Dr. Taurean Walker has taught the course at local universities and colleges for four years and two years with Goodwill. He has more than 2,000 hours of flight time. “In class, we cover many aspects of aviation, including airspace, weather, weight and balance, federal regulations, flight operations and performance charts,” Walker said.

After successfully completing the drone pilot course, Goodwill pays for students’ Part 107 certification to become an FAA-licensed commercial drone pilot. Walker explains, “It typically takes 3 to 7 weeks of preparation for the exam.”

Markus Perry, a pilot graduate and owner of Focus Photography, first heard about the program from his wife, who saw a commercial about the course. “I felt there was more to me. I’m now in a space where I want to do something meaningful and purposeful.”

As a retired captain with the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, pilot graduate Joseph Clemmer was looking to add another skill and profession to his resume. “I was getting bored, having been retired for two years, and decided to find something to keep me busy,” he said. Clemmer and Perry were classmates who both completed the course in the fall of 2021.

To be a drone pilot: the benefits

With only 10 to 20 students per class, those enrolled can expect to receive the attention they need to be successful graduates.

Perry said the course has greatly expanded his business. As a result of taking the course, he’s had several new opportunities, such as shooting commercials, shooting 46 acres of land for sale and speaking engagements. “I put the drone in my toolbox as an extension of my photography business.”

Clemmer is now a drone pilot with Duke Energy, inspecting power lines and equipment on service poles in North and South Carolina. Next, he plans to open his own business doing inspections and events.

Becoming lifelong friends has been a special bonus for the two men. Perry and Clemmer meet regularly with classmates and instructors for continued support with their careers. “I have been blessed to find a new career in the drone industry and have shared this journey with some brothers that make it more exciting and fun,” Clemmer said.

Career goals

There are so many career opportunities in the drone industry. Dr. Walker offered a short list of possible commercial drone professions:

• Real estate photography

• Aerial mapping and photogrammetry
• First responder drone pilot
• Insurance inspector

• Traffic reconstruction

Walker added, “Technology is the future; Technology is now! Drones are a part of this, and drones will be used extensively for commercial purposes.”