High-tech high tech: Junior learns to operate drones

Ron Toback-Wolf

For centuries, humans have longed to soar high above the landscape below. As technology has continued to advance, humans can now have a bird’s eye view without even leaving the ground. That’s why junior Mason Rice was so intrigued when his former media director brought a drone to church, and inspired to pursue drones as a hobby and potentially a source of income.

“It’s really nice being able to see nature from a different perspective,” Mason said.
“You see cool landscapes and sunsets all the time. It’s a really fascinating perspective that you don’t usually see as a human.” 

Mason was given his first drone by his parents for Christmas. After saving up for months, he purchased his first professional-grade drone. For the past two years, Mason has continued to express his passion and love for all things drone.

“Mason has always had a knack for wanting to know why something works the way it does,” Mason’s father, Matthew Rice, said. “From the time he was really young, he was always asking questions about how things in the house worked and wanting to learn more. He’s able to ask why something works, learn it or figure it out, and then apply that information to how he operates the drones and gets good shots.”

After juggling drones and photography with his involvement in both track and football, Mason has started to notice the overlap in the skills that those activities involve.

“A football player should be good at both judging speed and depth-perception,” Mason said. “When you’re trying to tackle people, you have to judge where they’re going. In track, you need to have good judgment for when to jump each hurdle. Drones are all about being able to see where your target is in relation to its surroundings. That’s really the overall name of the game- being aware of your surroundings.”

Though Mason does enjoy his endeavors in track, football, and drone work, he plans to pursue a career in aerospace-engineering, aviation, or engineering in general.  

“I have a little business going with drones right now,” Mason said. “And if it ever turns into something majorly profitable, I wouldn’t be opposed to that, but for now it’s just a side hustle before I start leaning more into engineering and flying.”

Mason was inspired to start a photography business with his drones because he enjoys being proactive and doing things for people, even if it will be challenging breaking into a business that already has so much competition.

“I’m proud of the fact that his interest in this drove him to purchase a professional drone and try for his license,” Rice said. “Saving that much money is no joke. I’m happy to see him taking the initiative to be a self-starter in that regard. It shows that he has real passion and love for it, and that it isn’t just a little fad for him. He dug into something that he really likes and cares about. He’s been studying hard for his test to get certified, and I’m pretty confident that he’s going to ace that test.”

Mason enjoys doing drone work, even with all its difficulties. Though he finds it fun, he has plenty of legal study and Federal Aviation regulations to look over to keep his passion in the air.

“I’ll need a license in order to do actual professional commercial drone work,” Mason said. “Everything I’ve been doing for my little side hustle business has just been for friends. Getting a license will let me do actual commercial work for money and get clearance to fly in certain places I normally wouldn’t be allowed to.”

After experimenting with multiple study sets, taking practice tests, and enrolling in courses for drone handling, Mason is signed up to take the test for his professional drone license this month.

“A piece of advice I’d give someone who wants to try doing photography with drones is to buy something affordable,” Mason said. “Don’t go all out at the start. Learn on small stuff, and then once you’re happy with it and maybe make a little money with that, use that to go buy more advanced technologies.”

Mason’s love of drones is clear in both his working life and his personal life.

“When we went on vacation to Galveston last Christmas, he took his drone with him,” Rice said. “And some of the shots he got of the waves coming in were really pretty remarkable. I think it’s safe to say I’m very proud of him.”

Though the path may be long and winding, Mason believes that the experience and perspective from drones have helped him become ready to navigate that road with ease.

“You can see a long way from 400 feet up when using a drone camera,” Mason said. “It’s kind of crazy. You can see the end of College Station and even further, it’s a really unique and interesting perspective, and I’m glad drones have given it to me.”