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No stopping these drones

New SkillsUSA® commercial drone competition safely showcases relevant workforce skills

Published June 4, 2021
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Competition is a natural piece in students’ educational journey, but no matter the kind of contest, it needs contestants. Unfortunately, in this time of COVID-19, it’s not easy to safely bring a bunch of students together into one space and carry out said competition. But – fortunately – this is also a time when technology enables us to continue the competition virtually despite these physical barriers!

SkillsUSA® is a leading national organization that wields educational events to promote workforce skills in students. Their annual competitions at the state and national level are always super high energy as teams test their skills and challenge their peers. This year, to further their mission safely, many state competitions were held virtually, and the brand-new Commercial sUAS (Drone) Competition will be conducted online.

This drone competition, presented by Pitsco Education, CrossFlight Sky Solutions, MINDS-i Education, and the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida, involves teams of two exercising their skills and knowledge of drone flight, technology, safety, and National Airspace System laws. The competition aims to recognize participants’ outstanding performances in four real-world, scenario-based tasks.

While specific rules for the state competitions were decided by each individual state, in these four tasks, teams had to prove their flight skills, showcase their drone troubleshooting and repair knowledge, answer FAA knowledge-based questions related to drone regulations, and then strategize and document all aspects of how they would complete a real-world mission.

While the state competitions proceeded as planned, they were notably different from business as usual. Preparing accordingly was key, and it will be essential for the national event this summer too. SkillsUSA offers this advice from Darren Gibson, their director of Career Competition Events. He says, “‘Students should familiarize themselves with Zoom software before their event so they can be 100% focused on competition day. . . . You should practice [presenting] so that you always appear comfortable on camera, whether it’s live on Zoom or on a pre-recorded video’”; it’s crucial to look directly at the camera, which provides the sense of eye contact.

Another tip for events of all kinds is to carefully read the contest’s rules! “‘The SkillsUSA Championships Technical Standards have been updated to reflect our virtual setting,’ Gibson explains, ‘Your advisor should have the latest version. Be sure to read those before competing.’”

So, the drone competition guide contains the contest guidelines as well as recommendations for implementing a virtual event, which includes the online learning management system (LMS) hosted by CrossFlight Sky Solutions. This LMS was available free of charge for state hosts to run their event. Note that this LMS setup will be very similar to the national competition format that will be hosted virtually on June 15, 2021.

To read the competition guide as well as find registration information and videos explaining each of the four tasks, safety guidelines, and the free LMS, go to my.crossflightskysolutions.com/2021skillsusa.

You can always visit SkillsUSA.org to view winners, future conference dates, any competition details, and how to register for your own event. Join in the fun today and see how your students can show off their skills!

Momentum growing for new event

Several states have totally embraced the new SkillsUSA® drone competition and will be represented at nationals in June. The four tasks in the contest were open-ended enough that the states could riff on each one and tailor it to their chosen implementation strategy.

North Carolina, for example, held their SkillsUSA competitions entirely virtually; their delivery platform of choice was Canvas. Their Drone Pilot’s mission scenario included a search and rescue for a lost kayaker in the Neuse River in Kinston. Teams had to submit a written report and screenshots of their METAR (meteorological aerodrome reports, used for observing the weather), answer a series of interview questions on video as though they were asked by a future employer, as well as complete a written exam.

The national drone event is right around the corner, and it’s shaping up to be soaring success. Will your students join in next year?

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