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Pinellas Co. 11-year-old becomes youngest in US to get drone safety certification

Posted at 4:15 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 18:29:39-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Pinellas County middle schooler recently became the youngest student in the nation to earn a USI Safety Level (1) Industry Certification, according to the Unmanned Safety Institute.

11-year-old Rhys Marriott earned the certification, which is part of a college-level accredited course, as part of Azalea Middle School’s Academy of Engineering program.


His teacher, Willis Reese, who heads up Azalea Middle School’s Engineering Department, said he couldn’t be prouder.

“As a teacher, that excites you. You’re looking to have the lights turn on. You want to see the bulb turn on for somebody,” he said.

Rhys knows a lot about drones and the incredible ways they can be used.

“You can monitor air conditioning units, you can look for missing people. Drones can go to places where humans can’t go,” he explained.

When it came to earning his Unmanned Safety Institute certification, he nailed it.

“In order to get our certification, we had to pass 13 modules, pass a pre-test and then go and pass the final test. It wasn’t too bad,” Rhys added.

Mr. Reese said it’s a seriously impressive feat.

“I actually teach this over at St. Pete College and I see grown people that get flustered with it and even quit sometimes in the middle of the program. For these youngsters to be able to get through this and with the ease they do, it’s amazing to me,” he elaborated.


Reese’s students at Azalea Middle School previously set the record for the youngest students to get the certification at ages 14, 13 and 12.

Industry leaders expect there to be more than 100,000 jobs using drones by 2025, and with companies like Walmart expanding drone delivery to Tampa Bay, the field is growing quickly.

Azalea is one of only two middle schools in the nation to offer the certification.

The program has given Rhys an impressive career goal.

“In the future what I want to do is be a rocket engineer with NASA. So, I feel if I can fly a drone, I can fly a rocket, can’t I?” Rhys said with determination.

19 students currently take part in the drone program at Azalea Middle School. Azalea Middle School’s Academy of Engineering program also features a realistic airplane flight simulator, which allows students to learn the basics of flying and utilizes backdrops of local airports like Albert Whitted, Tampa International and St. Pete Clearwater Airport.