Laurens District 55 High School Student Becomes Certified Federal Aviation Administration Remote Pilot and Young Entrepreneur

March 31, 2023

Laurens County School District 55 (LCSD 55) has named Chalen Smallwood as the Champion Student Spotlight Award recipient for March 2023 for his entrepreneurial endeavor in the drone industry.

Chalen completed the Drone Academy Program offered by LCSD 55 through the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) and in partnership with AINautics. The JROTC purchased a set of drones for the JROTC program and program commanders encouraged JROTC students to prepare for and participate in drone competitions against other local high schools. The LCSD partnership with AINautics helped students obtain formal drone training which qualifies students to become Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107A certified commercial drone pilots.

Christopher Williams, AINautics Director of Partnership Development, shared the importance of training a young generation of drone pilots, “The Commercial Drone Industry like technology is constantly evolving. This is a new industry, requiring new technology and a new generation of innovators. Partnering with high schools creates a talent pipeline of critical thinkers, which is important for the success of the autonomous industry. Our goal is to prepare the next generation for opportunities that will help enhance their platform for success and sustainability. AINautics is one of the few national training companies that focus attention on young professionals. We understand the industry needs with the end in mind.”

Chalen’s parents, Gemini Dyar and Ben Dyar, are very thankful for the Drone Academy Program at LDHS. Gemini Dyar said, “Chalen had inexpensive drones at home to use for fun. When the opportunity presented itself to have drone education as part of his high school curriculum, we were excited for him. We knew he would be super excited about this opportunity.”

“High school is a great time to learn about job fields like drone photography. It gives them skills they can apply after high school,” added Ben Dyar.

Chalen Smallwood with LCSD 55 Superintendent Dr. Ameca C. Thomas

Chalen has successfully passed the aeronautical knowledge exam and has obtained his FAA Part 107A Remote Pilot Certificate. Chalen’s certification reflects his competency in his aeronautical knowledge to safely operate a drone. Among the content he was tested in are airspace classification and operating requirements, radio communications procedures, airport operations, and aeronautical decision-making and judgment.

Chalen has taken the initiative to start a drone aerial photography business on a word-of-mouth basis. He hopes to do real estate photos of houses and properties. He rents his photography drone from the JROTC class and hopes to save enough to buy his own. His first client is Debbie Simpson, for whom Chalen captured beautiful photos of her property. A second client, one of Chalen’s former coaches, is lined up for this April.

“I was very nervous when I first got the job because I was worried that I was going to mess up and not live up to my expectations for the photos, but as soon as I was in the air, all the nerves went away and I got the photos,” Chalen said.

Booker Little, AINautics Director of Operations and Chalen’s drone instructor, visited LDHS on March 27, 2023 and promised to give Chalen a new drone to support his drone business. Little praised Chalen’s drone-flying skills, stating Chalen possesses all the tools to reach any goal he sets his mind to and has the opportunity to make an impact in the drone industry with focus, dedication and hard work.

Chalen is a very accomplished young man. He is a member of the LDHS Student Council, National Honor Society, and JROTC, and serves at his church. LCSD 55 is very proud of Chalen’s achievement at a young age and hopes he inspires other students to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit.

LCSD 55 Superintendent Dr. Ameca C. Thomas said, “We are incredibly proud of Chalen’s outstanding achievements, and we wish him continued success as he continues to grow his business. It’s rewarding and inspiring to see our students turn their passions into concrete accomplishments, and his success is a testimony to his hard work, dedication, and drive.”