By Anthony Scully
Sam Hadley, 17, is ranked as one of the top drone racers in Australia, a sport that has been likened to pod-racing from the Star Wars films.
His ability as a pilot and a technician has now won him what is believed to be the first traineeship in the Australian UAV industry with drone deployment company Airsight Australia, based in Newcastle.
Using goggles hooked up to a camera mounted on his drone, Sam pilots the vehicle using first-person view, or FPV.
“My FPV racing has grown,” said Sam, who has a YouTube channel with 500 subscribers where he posts videos of his flights.
“I was over the moon when I qualified fourth at the 2017 Australian Drone Nationals in Nerang, Queensland,” he said.
After disappointing results in 2016, last year was much better for Sam as he qualified 25 spots higher, mixing in with Australia’s top pilots.
“This year I hope to do one better and finish on the podium,” he said.
Skills ‘good fit’ for drone deployment
General manager of Airsight’s sister company UAVAIR, Ashley Cox, said Sam’s skills were a good fit for the drone deployment company.
“We met Sam (when) he came here to work on a STEMship program, which was sponsored by the NSW Government,” he said.
“He was really interested in coming onboard with Airsight for 12 months to do a traineeship and get a thorough experience of what’s involved in the industry.”
Sam’s entry into the industry began in years nine and 10 at Toronto High School where he enrolled in the iStem program.
The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA)-approved program helps students combine science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects with hands-on learning.
Photo: Rick Evans said ‘STEMships’ hope to fill a gap between STEM in secondary schools and universities. (ABC Newcastle: Anthony Scully)
STEM workforce development manager for Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter, Rick Evans, said ‘STEMships’ have been created “to fill a gap between STEM in secondary schools and STEM in University”.
Rather than studying STEM in isolation in years 11 and 12 via traditional subjects like physics or mathematics, STEMships offer a different path.
“I think his parents would be one of the first to say that for him, he could have quite easily gone on to year 12 but might not have received a high ATAR,” Mr Evans said.
An ATAR, or Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, is the main criteria for entry into most undergraduate entry university programs.
“Taking on the STEMship is an opportunity for Sam to get straight into the workforce, take on a paid traineeship and achieve a nationally-accredited qualification,” Mr Evans said.
Sam said he had enjoyed the style of learning that iStem provided him in years 9 and 10 as it coincided with his newfound passion for drones.
“I don’t particularly like hitting the books — just one of the many reasons I gravitated towards iStem. All my teachers thought I’d be a good pick for it,” he said.
Skillset ‘respected’ and ‘needed’
Ashley Cox said having someone with Sam’s skills in a traineeship with the company is an asset.
“He’s got a level of experience that the other pilots don’t have.”
Applications for drone use was growing exponentially, Mr Cox said.
“Anything from delivery to scientific research and surveying and inspections of things that are difficult to get to.
“We are training all sort of different people — from high school students all the way through to people in fire brigades and police rescue.”
Part of Sam’s traineeship will be gaining qualifications for a piloting UAVs and various tickets to access sites where UAVs are deployed.
“Generally, a lot of the pilots that operate professionally are operating in a very careful manner,” Mr Cox said.
“Sam’s come at it from another perspective where he’s just learned to go flat-out.”
At work at least, Sam’s days of loop-the-loops and barrel rolls may need to be curtailed.
“We’ve had to do a lot of training with Sam to say: ‘when you go out with a $30,000 piece of equipment near a half-a-million-dollar mobile phone tower, we’ve got to slow down and we’ve got to be a little bit more careful with how we operate’,” Mr Cox said.
“At the same time, Sam brings a lot of skills to Airsight that are needed. Blending those two skills together is going to be fantastic for Sam, but fantastic for the company as well.”