The Green Hope High Black Falcons emerged from the shadows this year.
Needing to raise funds and wanting to attract more members, the school’s ethical hacking club decided to raise its profile. Someone suggested they fly a drone. The plan expanded to include flying a drone and live streaming Green Hope’s home football game against Middle Creek on Oct. 23.
As far as they knew, no other school in the country had ever live streamed from a drone, but that was part of the appeal.
The Black Falcons borrowed a drone – in keeping with hacking culture, the owner is known to only a few – made some adjustments to routers at the school and live streamed the 44-7 loss to Middle Creek on a gusty, rainy night.
“It really wasn’t that complicated or that hard,” said Black Falcons president Alex Bainbridge, a senior known as The Supreme Commander.
There were a few weather-induced glitches, but the live streaming was a huge success. Spectators could watch a play in person and then watch it again on their smartphones.
The most exciting part of the project, club sponsor Christopher Gaw said, was involving more students.
“Suddenly, we have this link between our athletes and our computer geeks,” Gaw said. “There is a new appreciation between two groups that really didn’t have all that much contact before. Watching that happen has been wonderful.
“This is one of those times that I am so proud and happy that I’m a teacher.”
Athletic director Colin Fegeley enthusiastically endorsed the plan and said the interaction between the football players and the ethical hackers has had several unexpected benefits.
“It has been a tremendous thing for our school,” Fegeley said. “Our fans love it and so do our students. It is really good to see the two groups interacting.”
The previously low-key ethical hacking club even has a booster club now.
“We had to make some changes for a couple of reasons,” Bainbridge, said “The rules for the (national hacking) competition changed and we needed to raise some money. Plus, we wanted to get more people involved.”
The Youth Cyber Defense Competition, which is a part of the Air Force Association’s Cyberpatriot program, requires six-person teams to find cybersecurity vulnerabilities within sites developed for the competition and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six-hour period.
“When I first heard of a hacking competition, I was ‘No way,’ ” said Gaw, who teaches programing at the school. “But then I learned more about it and asked the kids if they had any interest. About 10 of them immediately said they wanted to do it.”
Thus, the Black Falcons were born. The Green Hope colors are green and white and the mascot is the Falcon, but the name Black Falcons was too good to resist.
For years the club did its work quietly, winning state competitions, but enjoying a somewhat shadowy existence. Being a little out of the mainstream was part of the fun.
The group meets in “The Cargo Hold,” otherwise known as Gaw’s classroom, and prepares for hacking competitions. Members sign a contract to use their talents only for good, never evil, and Bainbridge said the group takes the charge seriously. “If we learn that someone did something unethical, we report it,” he said.
The Black Falcons was suddenly the topic of national newspaper articles and international television coverage. The club heard from Texas and California and made CNN.
Gaw said the club members more proudly wear their black polo shirts with their hacker nickname.
“It’s like, ‘Yeah. I’m a Black Falcon. I’m one of those guys,’ ” Gaw said.
The technical aspects of the drone live stream were not that complicated, but the actual flying involved a lot of details.
According to still-evolving regulations, the drone cannot be used within five miles of an airport, can’t be flown above 400 feet and can’t be used for commercial purposes.
Black Falcons surrounded the field with club members to retrieve the drone, manage the network and replace batteries. The drone had a high-definition wide angle camera.
The National Federation of State High School Associations recommends that schools exercise a high degree of care in the operation to avoid common law tort liability for injuries to players, coaches, spectators or other third parties that might result from a drone crashing into a crowd.
The Federation said pilots “should avoid flying the drones directly over or close to crowds at games, and should strictly refrain from any sort of horseplay or tomfoolery.”
Nevertheless, a high school in Boise, Idaho, recently used a drone to deliver barbecue containers to spectators during a game.
The Black Falcons’ live stream has been more successful than the group imagined. The booster club bought a drone for about $1,600 off Amazon.com.
The drone has been named the Grace Murray Hopper in honor of the late U.S. rear admiral and computer scientist, Grace Murray Hopper, whose portrait hangs in Gaw’s room and overlooks all the hackers. Hopper is affectionately known as the Queen Geek.
The drone’s nickname is Amazing Grace and she is scheduled to fly and live stream Friday’s final regular-season game against Panther Creek.