Jackson Bloomer spent just a few months at Thomas Nelson, and took only three courses. While he hasn’t landed his dream job yet, working for DroneUp, a company in Virginia Beach that provides drone flight services, is pretty close.
“Honestly, my dream job would to be a commercial pilot for a smaller private company,” he said, or maybe flying rich people to the Bahamas or other exotic locales.
In some ways, he admits his current position is a dream job.
“I wake up in the morning, and I don’t feel like I’m going to work,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to have fun. I wouldn’t even call it a job. It’s more of a hobby, to be honest, that I get paid for.”
Bloomer has always been interested in flying and drones. He was in the aviation program at Denbigh High School, graduating a semester early. His mom’s father, Bill Becker, encouraged his interest, too, by showing him news stories about drones.
“If anyone says the word ‘drone’ on TV, he records it and shows me when I go see him,” Bloomer said. “I would say he got me into it.”
Bloomer enrolled at Thomas Nelson for the spring 2020 semester, shortly before the pandemic hit. He took three courses, one on the rules and regulations of flying drones, one on repairs and maintenance, and one on actual flight operations, to earn a UMS Career Studies Certificate. That education also helped him get certified by the FAA to fly drones commercially.
“I didn’t get that at Thomas Nelson, but I learned everything I needed to know there,” he said of the FAA certification.
He has been with DroneUp about three months, and his main job is flying drones around cellphone towers. He recently spent about two weeks in Oklahoma. That was after a work trip to Winchester.
“Companies want to put more antennas on a tower,” he explained. “They’re trying to figure out which ones are the best to do so. We make a 3-D model and they can look at it from the office and pick and choose.”
He said his work is a little harder in Virginia because there are more protected bird species, more protected areas and more trees blocking the towers in the state.
“In Oklahoma, it’s nothing but grass,” he said. “But I don’t mind it though. It makes my job a little bit easier.”
His company does work all over the United States, including Chicago, Salt Lake City, Portland, and Seattle. He’s not sure where he’s headed next, but admits a preference for the more rural environments. His favorite part of the job is being outside in nature, and not behind a desk.
“I get to be doing something cool,” he said. “Every time someone sees a drone, they always come over and talk. I’ve met a lot of nice people, which can be rare in these times. I just like how it’s not the same thing every morning when I wake up. I’m always going somewhere new, doing what I like.”
The Virginia Space Grant Consortium recently produced a video about drones, and Bloomer was the narrator. He’s surprised at how quickly this all came about.
He planned to stay at Thomas Nelson for more than one semester, but the chance to get into the field right away was too good to pass up. He was supposed to have an internship last summer with the company, but because of the pandemic and his age (he was 17 at the time), that fell through. Instead, he was hired full time about a year later.
“I’m not complaining,” he said, noting people his age are just graduating this year. “If you would have asked me a year-and-a-half ago where I would be now, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be here.”
He doesn’t rule out a return to college, but doesn’t see a need for it right now.
“College is always an option, but seeing how fast this industry is growing, if you are in the industry now, you’re kind of a pioneer,” he said. “I just kind of skipped a couple steps. I would say college is always good. You can’t go wrong with college.”
He enjoyed his experience at Thomas Nelson, saying he learned a lot in those four months.
“It was just pure information, and every one did a good job telling you everything you needed to know without overwhelming you,” he said, mentioning instructors Julie Young, Pete Berquist, Scott Bellows and Marco Sterk.
Those professors aren’t surprised at his success.
“Bright young man, I’m so happy for him,” said Sterk, the president of Express Drone Parts in Hampton.
Young said from the moment she met Bloomer she knew he was going to be successful.
“He was very mature for a 17-year-old,” she said. “I just saw he had a lot of potential.”
She told tell the story of one of his co-workers mentioning to her how talented Bloomer is.
“I said, ‘You know he’s 18?’ And they’re like, ‘No way. I thought he was like 25,’” Young said.
“He’s just very driven,” she added. “He had done his research, and he knew he wanted to fly.”
It might be a little sooner than expected, but his career is taking flight.