Lakeland drones on

Published 7:17 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

From left, Lakeland JROTC Cadet Capt. Jarvis Brown, Cadet Capt. Austin Carr and Cadet Col. Malik Cross operate the drone.

From left, Lakeland JROTC Cadet Capt. Jarvis Brown, Cadet Capt. Austin Carr and Cadet Col. Malik Cross operate the drone.

The entire Lakeland High School student body packed the football field on a warm December afternoon, looking up collectively in one direction and singing the school song.

The students were mugging for the Lakeland JROTC’s new drone, a remote-controlled aerial device equipped with Wi-Fi, GPS and a high-definition camera. The JROTC was shooting its debut aerial video at a pep rally celebrating the school’s recent full accreditation victory.

Lakeland bought the $1,100 drone with a combination of donations and school funds from principal Douglas Wagoner, according to school officials.

Lakeland High School's JROTC uses the drone to take group photos and video.

Lakeland High School’s JROTC uses the drone to take group photos and video.

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Lakeland is the first Suffolk high school to own a drone and among the first JROTC units in any Hampton Roads high school to have its own drone, JROTC Cadet Col. Malik Cross said.

“Menchville High School (in Newport News) is the only other JROTC that I know that has one,” Cross said. “They got it around the same we got ours last year.”

Drones have been in multiple headlines in recent years, twice after people attempted to fly in airspace near the White House or crashed the device on or near the White House in 2014 and 2015.

As of Dec. 21, 2015, new Federal Aviation Administration regulations require anyone over age 13 who buys a drone or any small unmanned aircraft weighing more than .55 pounds to register it with the FAA and pay a $5 registration fee. Anyone who owned and operated a drone before that date has until Feb. 19 to register their aircraft or face criminal and civil penalties, according to the FAA’s website.

Lakeland has to follow FAA regulations when operating their drone, including not flying higher than 400 feet, not within 100 feet of a building without permission and not flying within five miles of an airport without special FAA permission, said ROTC Master Sgt. Selwyn Curtis. The drone cannot be used off school property, even if requested by other Suffolk high schools, Wagoner said.

“It’s fun flying one,” said JROTC Cadet Capt. Austin Carr, a Lakeland senior and member of JROTC’s team of drone operators. “I particularly like flying when there is not a real objective, when you are just doing it for fun.

“Now that I have learned how to do it, I want one of my own.”

The JROTC has made a video using drone images shot during the December pep rally. On Jan. 26, the drone will shoot the senior class standing on the football in the shape of a 16.

Curtis envisions using the drone to film band tournaments and athletic practices, to give performers and players a three-dimensional view. Drones cannot be used at any Virginia High School League events, said Wagoner.

Ultimately, those images will be special enhancements in this year’s Lakeland yearbook.

Although the yearbook will look like traditional ones, students can download a special app on their phone, hold it up to the picture and see a video.

“The drone is providing us with some amazing opportunities,” said Nicole Paitsel, English and journalism teacher and head of school’s yearbook staff. The JROTC drone operators and video editors are getting valuable, high-tech skills to put on their resumes or college applications, she added.

Click here to view a YouTube video of the school celebration filmed with the drone.