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A School for Drones

Colleges and universities are at the forefront of training for the anticipated boom in the UAS industry

By John McBryde on January 26, 2015

Dayton / Courtesy of Sinclair Community College

From defense to agriculture and zoology, the use of drones is becoming increasingly prevalent these days.

The technology of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) – the vehicles more commonly known as drones – is expected to create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade after it’s fully employed, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Several states and sectors are already using drones for private and commercial applications, and the door is expected to open even wider after the Federal Aviation Administration writes new policy and regulations on the technology, possibly in 2015.  

A National UAS Training and Certification Center

To prepare for this emerging technology, several universities and colleges across the country are launching or expanding UAS programs. Fields of study are far-reaching, as nonmilitary drones become more and more useful.

“When you think about the applications, … there will be endless numbers,” says Deb Norris, vice president of Workforce Development & Corporate Services at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. “This will impact the way we work and live. This is a technology that will influence how we do things.”

Sinclair CC, located in the city known as the “birthplace of aviation,” is emerging as a leading institution in the study and training of UAS uses and pilots. Its curriculum focuses on practical real-world applications of UAS vehicle and sensor technologies using classroom instruction, simulation and hands-on vehicle operations.

“To date, we’ve had probably over 800 individuals who have taken either a credit or noncredit UAS course so far,” says Andrew Shepherd, director of Sinclair’s UAS program. “That’s a very large number for a new program just a couple of years in.”

The numbers will likely increase even more as the school builds an indoor flying pavilion where students can test and fly drones. With groundbreaking scheduled for mid-2015, the pavilion is part of a construction project that will support Sinclair as the National UAS Training and Certification Center.

The building will be 3,200 square feet and 40 feet tall, and will be a place for students to fly and test drones.

“It gives students an inside lab, which will be so important for hands-on experience,” Norris says.

Sinclair’s UAS program already operates with outdoor flying space it can use through a Certificate of Authorization (COA) it obtained from the FAA, as well as a UAS indoor flight range it opened in October 2014 from a renovation of the school’s field house.

Options Expand

Other schools are also at the forefront of UAS training and curriculums. Some 30 universities in the U.S. offer UAS degrees, and several community colleges offer associate degrees.

The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and the Kansas State University campus in Salina are among the first major universities in the U.S. to offer majors and degrees in UAS.

The Daytona Beach, Fla., location of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is specifically tailored for students seeking employment as operators, observers, sensor operators and operations administrators of UAS. In Phoenix, the Unmanned Vehicle University is the first in the world to offer doctorate and master’s degrees in Unmanned Systems Engineering and a certificate in UAS Project Management.

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