WESTMINSTER, Colo. — The United States is short about 11,000 airline pilots. If steps aren’t taken to start training more pilots, by 2032, experts predict we will be 80,000 pilots short of what we need to travel efficiently.
There’s a new sport taking off in U.S. high schools that is hoping to slow down that shortage.
It’s almost Harry Potter and almost Star Wars: It’s United States Drone Soccer.
High schoolers battle it out in the air in an epic test of hand-eye coordination and engineering, but it's disguised as fun.
The game is usually played with five students on each team. The drones with the red lights are ‘striker’ drones that can score points. It’s everyone else’s job to stop them.
“This program encompasses the students being able to build the drones, learn how to program them, learn how to fly them, learn how to repair them when they break them,” said Robert Ferguson, the coach of the Westminster High School drone soccer team.
This is the first year drone soccer is available in 60 locations across the country. The team at Westminster High in Colorado was one of the first teams in the nation.
“It's so engaging for them. It just really hooks them, and I think that's how you get students excited about aerospace and STEM careers,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson hopes his students take the lessons they learn outside of school.
“It's changed my whole life completely. it made me want to start a whole new drone business in my personal drone business,” said Xavier Culp, a 12th grader. “I came into junior year with not really anything, a lot of low credits. And then because of the drone program, because of the drone class, I was able to find something I enjoyed and find something I wanted to like achieve, like a goal for me to set.”
“I love the whole leadership aspect,” said 12th grader striker Brandon Pierce. “Being the team captain, it's really taught me how to be that leader.”
All this learning is free to students— making high-paying aerospace careers accessible for students of all backgrounds.
“It's just an expanding career opportunity that these students can actually obtain in high school,” said Ferguson.
The Federal Aviation Administration even recommended drone soccer as a way to increase representation of women and minorities in aviation careers.
Eleventh-grade pilot Helen Tran said she’s glad to be part of that movement.
“At first, it was like male-dominated, but after a while, we got some girls on the team, so I'm happy about that," she said.
The team said they are also happy to know that drone soccer is expanding because they know the impact this sport can have.
“That could change a lot of people's lives potentially,” said Culp.
“Even no matter your age, you can still start something,” said Tran. “If you have an idea, you should let it fly.”
If you'd like to learn more about U.S. Drone Soccer or learn how to bring this program to your school, click HERE.