DADE CITY – Eli Joyner discovered a whole new world without leaving Dade City.
It happened because the 13-year-old decided to check out the Drone Club at Hugh Embry Library. And as he flew a few of the popular remote-controlled miniature aircraft, he uncovered his new passion.
"I've always wanted to fly a plane, and this is kind of a start," Eli said. "I love trying to drive the drone to the max."
Now Eli is taking his interest in drones (otherwise known as UAWs or unmanned aerial vehicles) to the max in a variety of ways. He and his father, Roger, attend the Drone Club every month and also fly drones at home. And at Centennial Middle School, where Eli is a seventh-grader, he and some friends are starting a drone club. In the future, Eli would like to fly commercial drones that take aerial photographs for real estate companies.
"I think he's found a career," Roger said with a smile.
Introducing young people to the fun, usability and endless possibilities of drone technology is the whole point of the Drone Club.
"We want patrons to use the library for discovery of any kind of knowledge," said Angelo Liranzo, branch manager of Hugh Embry Library. "And in this club, we want children to discover drones in a safe, comfortable and successful manner."
Consisting of about 10 boys and girls in fourth grade or higher, the Drone Club generally meets the fourth Saturday of each month at the library. Working with four library-owned drones funded by the Friends of Hugh Embry Library, members learn the basics of operating and flying these Blade Inductrix and Nano QX quadcopters.
Members learn how to launch, hover, lift, spin and land the drones. They also engage in races and challenges to test their newfound skills.
"The kids get a taste of Star Wars here," said Liranzo. "The kids just want to know how high they'll go. Here we make learning fun."
And safe, say organizers. Two of the drones are outfitted with covered propellers, helping to ensure safer use for younger participants. And all members learn basic safety techniques regarding drone usage, as well as state and federal rules on flight and usage of UAWs.
John Bryant, a library custodian and Drone Club facilitator, says the club offers many potential benefits for young participants.
"If people are afraid to spend money on drones, they can come here and try them first for free," he said. "Operating a drone is challenging, and it develops hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. You learn to control the drone, and not let the drone control you."
The club is also a family activity. Brothers Liam and Skylar Childers, of Ridge Manor, attend meetings together each month.
"I just love to see what the drones can do," said Liam, 11. "Plus, I want to be a computer engineer, so this will help in that matter."
Skylar, 9, agreed.
"When I fly those drones around the room," he said, "I pretend that I'm a pilot."
The Drone Club meets at 11 a.m. Nov. 26 at Hugh Embry Library, 14215 Fourth St.