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Now you can go to college to be a drone operator

Sunday, May 12, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: drones, unmanned aircraft, college degree

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(NaturalNews) Well, you know unmanned aerial vehicles - drones - are here to stay when colleges and universities are beginning offering classes on them. In fact, such programs have matured to the point where you can even earn a degree.

Zachary Waller, who majored in drones at the University of North Dakota, says when he first arrived on campus in 2008, there wasn't much of a drone program.

"There were no textbooks," he says of those early years. "Nothing like this had ever been taught in an academic setting." After he began studying unmanned aircraft in 2009, the program had 15 students; today it has grown to 120.

Drone programs growing with drone usage

The program isn't just limited to the University of North Dakota, either. Per Time:

Curriculums and research projects related to drones are cropping up at both large universities and community colleges across the country. In a list of 81 publicly funded entities that have applied for a certificate of authorization to fly drones from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), more than a third are colleges, according to FAA documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Schools - and their students - are jockeying for a position on the ground floor of a nascent industry that looks poised to generate jobs and research funding in the coming years.

Drone U is the new "flight school," it would seem.

"We get a lot of inquiries from students saying, 'I want to be a drone pilot,'" Ken Polovitz, the assistant dean in the University of North Dakota's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, told the magazine. "The Grand Forks region has become a hotbed for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)."

The UAS operations major is designed to "provide a conduit between private industry and UAS researchers, promoting commercialization of new UAS-related products and services while bringing new UAS-related business ventures to North Dakota," according to the school's website. Students earn a B.S. in aeronautics with a major in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations.

Time reported that the program provides instruction in both manned and unmanned aerial training. First, students must earn a commercial pilot certification with both multi-engine and instrument ratings, which means they earn nearly the same qualifications as a commercial airline pilot. Once students demonstrate traditional pilot abilities, they then begin learning about drones.

According to the course description, UAS students learn about drone camera operation, as well as ground systems and communications platforms. In the capstone course, students must complete 19 lessons, which take about 70 hours, in a flight simulator resembling Boeing's Scan Eagle, "an unmanned aircraft system that's been in military use since 2004," the magazine said. As a final project, students are required to create a mock application for drone flight in which they must develop a flight-operations and safety plan aimed at satisfying Federal Aviation Administration requirements (which are still under development, by the way).

More drones, fewer regulations - how's that working out?

Some schools are working with local law enforcement to help train them to better use unmanned aircraft. In Starkville, Miss., for instance, the local police department obtained a Parrot AR Drone via a partnership with Mississippi State University. And the University of North Dakota is presently involved in a research project with the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department to train deputies and officers how to use drones and partnering with police on missions covering a wide area.

"We manage the program, we provide the pilots, we dispatch the aircraft," Al Frazier, an assistant professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota who spent three decades in law enforcement, told Time. "The role that the sheriff's department plays is that they provide the law-enforcement officer, the law-enforcement expertise and the repository of any evidence that is gained when we utilize the aircraft."

Drones are here to stay, even if - or rather, in spite of the fact that - the legal system has yet to catch up to their widening use.

Sources for this article include:




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