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Pinellas County middle schoolers believed to be youngest certified drone pilots

Posted at 4:28 PM, May 13, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Stefan Iltchev is just 14 years old, but he's already a certified drone pilot.

“It’s definitely not something everyone can do. It takes a lot of hard work. Mental skills," he said.

Stefan and fellow 8th grader Mckenzie Bell are believed to be the youngest ever to get certified by the Unmanned Safety Institute.

The process involves college-level work. Their teacher says he knew they could do it.

“There wasn’t a question in my mind when I originally called USI. They kind of questioned me and wondered if I was in my right mind," said Willis Reese.

Azalea Middle School’s drone class started as an after school program. Now they have dozens of students involved and 14 drones. They say they might be the only middle school drone program anywhere.

“It was really really exciting to see it develop over this year. You walk on the courtyard and there’s drones flying everywhere," said Assistant Principal Carrie Short.

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“The kids really enjoy having fun with the drones and flying the drones, and they take to it really fast because a lot of them play video games and that sort of thing. And this is like a real-life video game for them," said Reese.

Their teacher says besides the fun, there is a practical application to this that could lead to high paying careers.

“I love doing this. It’s amazing. I’m very happy to be part of it and get my safety certification. Someday I want to go into aerospace engineering," said Iltchev.

Bell wants to be an Air Force pilot.

"What I love about the program is learning all the regulations that we have to follow. I really just like the different components that go into flying drones."

Azalea Middle School isn’t stopping with the drones. They’ve added two flight simulators to expand its manned aviation program.