You Can Now Earn A Degree In Flying Drones

Education
Photo courtesy of Kansas State University/Michael Most

The use of drone technology is on the rise, both in the military and the private sector.


Seeing the potential for growth in the field, a number of colleges and universities across the country have launched tailored degree programs for students interested in pursuing a career in the emerging field of unmanned aerial technology.

The University of North Dakota was the first college program to offer a major in unmanned aircraft systems, fully launching in 2009. Though it started out with just 15 students, in 2016 program has enrolled just under 200 students.

Having a long history in manned aviation education allowed the school to leverage its now-thriving unmanned aerial systems program.

“We’ve been teaching future pilots and commercial pilots for over 40 years,” said Mark Hastings, chief pilot for unmanned aircraft systems for the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota. “It’s an area we knew well and making the transition to UAS pretty natural.”

In essence, all students who participate in North Dakota’s program receive commercial pilots licenses.

“All of our students are commercial multi-instrument pilots first, and then we convert them into UAS operators,” he said in an interview with Task & Purpose.

Photo courtesy of Kansas State University/Michael Most

According to Hastings, a majority of the graduates from North Dakota go on to work for the military or defense contracting companies, operating platforms like the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone. It is a growing major among ROTC students, and the degree is also popular among former service members.

“We get quite a few that are former military here on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill,” Hastings said.

Kansas State University was the second school to pursue an unmanned systems program soon after — its focus was more on commercial payloads.

It was originally funded by the state of Kansas in response to a devastating tornado in May 2007. The legislature wanted to fund UAS technology to serve in a first-responder capacity.

According to Michael Most, UAS program lead at Kansas State University, it was originally a certificate program, and a bachelor’s degree program grew from there in 2010.

Enrollment in Kansas’ program has doubled almost every year since it began.

According to Tim Bruner, a graduate of the program at Kansas who was hired onto its research team, “I loved airplanes and I wanted to do something with aircraft as a career.”  

So the degree was a natural fit for him.

As with North Dakota’s program, Kansas has also seen several Air Force ROTC students who earned a UAS degree and commissioned.

Related: Drone swarms? Pentagon brass have been playing too much Call of Duty »

In the fall, Most said, Kansas expects to implement a new curriculum with a lot more emphasis on flight training, similar to the way the Federal Aviation Administration flight training environment.

Currently, through their courses, students get a firm grasp on regulations associated with this area of flight, engineering and maintenance, and of course operations. In addition, the operations side of the degree requires and instrument rating and as a result, students at Kansas come out with a private pilot’s license.

Though primarily used to carry out missions for the military now, the civilian market is expected to catch up in coming years.

Each program seems to have a niche area of study. Whether the specialty is government, commercial sector, or research, it really varies from school to school.

“It covers the whole spectrum,” Bruner said. “We do a little bit of the pilot side… and then we get into the UAS-centered classes.”

As far as return on investment, a degree in unmanned aerial systems will likely lead to extremely good job prospects and salaries in coming years.

Nearly everyone he graduated with has a job in the field, according to Bruner.

In 2013, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International put out a report saying that by 2025, more than 100,000 unmanned systems jobs will be created nationally. The integration of these systems is expected to contribute $82.1 billion to the nation’s economy in the areas of agriculture, public safety, and others between 2015 and 2025.

Though it really depends on what the focus is, Hastings suggested a current ballpark average starting salary can be roughly $45,000 to $50,000. However, he also noted that for some graduates who work for the bigger defense contracting companies, those numbers can be significantly higher.

Now, the Federal Aviation Administration is exploring regulations for the emerging unmanned aerial systems market. In February 2015, it released small UAV guidelines. It is expected to submit a final report in April with recommendations on performance-based standards for the classification and operation of UAVs, particularly in the commercial air space.

Because this technology is relatively new, the institutions spearheading these programs are playing a key part in defining the role that unmanned aircraft systems will have in future airspace.

Casperassets.rbl.ms

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Joshua Z. Beale (U.S. Army photo)

The Pentagon has identified a Green Beret who was killed on Tuesday by enemy small arms fire in southern Afghanistan as Staff Sgt. Joshua Z. Beale.

Beale was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He was killed during combat operations in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.

Read More Show Less
(The 621st Contingency Response Wing/Flickr)

The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard called the ongoing partial government shutdown "unacceptable" following reports that some Coast Guardsmen are relying on donations from food pantries while their regular paychecks remain on hold.

"We're five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," Adm. Karl Schultz said in a video message to service members. "You, as members of the armed forces, should not be expected to shoulder this burden."

Read More Show Less
The M160 Robotic Mine Flail at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Photo: Maj. Dan Marchik/U.S. Army

The battlefield of the future could feature robot medics delivering life-saving care to casualties in the line of fire. At least, that's what the Army is aiming for — and it's willing to pay millions for help doing it.

Read More Show Less
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles was awarded the Medal of Honor July 18, 2016, for his actions while serving as a Flight Commander assigned to the 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. Then-Maj. Kettles distinguished himself in combat operations near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, on May 15, 1967. (U.S. Army/Spc. Tammy Nooner)

by Martin Slagter, The Ann Arbor News, Mich.

YPSILANTI, MI - When a brigade of U.S. troops was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in the Song Tra Cau riverbed on the morning of May 15, 1967, Lt. Charles Kettles volunteered to lead the rescue, and he refused, again and again, to back down when faced with a barrage of gunfire.

His aircraft badly damaged, left spilling fuel, and his gunner was severely injured during the treacherous operation.

But he helicoptered in and out of the battlefield four times, saving the lives of 44 soldiers in a death-defying emergency operation that would become a legendary tale of bravery in the Vietnam War.

Nearly 50 years later, Kettles received the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016.

Read More Show Less