Student drone pilots called to duty as hurricane approaches

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. - Like so many around the state, Tristan Warder is on edge as Hurricane Irma approaches.

“It’s certainly scary seeing that kind of storm, especially considering it’s massively stronger than anything we’ve seen before," he said.

But the Sunlake High School senior is taking control of the situation.

He’s one of the student drone pilots from the Tampa Bay Regional Aeronautics Academy.

Pasco officials asked this group of teens, who are also on the school’s robotics team, to get aerial views of Zephyrhills Thursday before the storm comes. 

Then they’ll come back to survey damage after it’s gone.

They also said they can help in search and rescue if needed.

“It’s really nice knowing I can make a change or any difference, considering I’m just a student after all,” said Warder.

This is the first time this program has been used for public safety. 

And that’s something they want to continue to grow, whether it’s working with the fire department, the sheriff’s office or helping like this during a storm.

“We get to go out into our community and really help out. I like seeing the difference we make,” said student Megan Gallagher.

There are about 30 Pasco County students who are learning to pilot these drones.

They are getting college credits as part of a program with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

And this week they are also getting real world experience like never before.

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Tracking Hurricane Irma: Updates and thoughts from Chief Meteorologist Denis Phillips

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