Unmanned aerial systems courses debut Fall 2010

TRAVERSE CITY – Northwestern Michigan College’s Aviation division will introduce the first in a series of courses on unmanned aerial systems (UAS) this fall, becoming one of only a handful of collegiate programs nationwide to offer training in a technology expected to reshape the aviation industry.

Currently, most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are operated by the military due to tight airspace restrictions imposed by the FAA. However, those restrictions are expected to be loosened significantly in December 2012, said NMC aviation director Aaron Cook. Given the favorable economics – typically weighing in under 50 pounds with a 8- to 12-foot wingspan, UAVs operate at about one-third the cost of a traditional, piloted aircraft – the FAA projects that half of all aircraft in U.S. skies will be unmanned by 2020. NMC decided to offer training in the technology to make students more competitive in this significant future market.

“We look at it as another opportunity. It’s a shift in our industry,” Cook said. “For a student to be knowledgeable in that emerging technology is important to us.”

Cook said UAVs are typically used for routine tasks, like surveillance, atmospheric research, and border patrol, as well as in dangerous situations. For instance, a UAV could fly into the ash cloud that hovered over northern Europe in April, measuring the volcanic particulates to determine when the airspace would be safe for passenger flights. Another application would be over the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Linked to ground-based computers and equipped with cameras, GIS systems and other specialized equipment, a UAV becomes a real-time data delivery device, streaming information to decision makers on the ground.

“The market for UAS is exploding. To be a viable in aviation education we have to provide this training,” Cook said. He added that NMC students will be on the leading edge of the U.S. job market and ready to enter other markets, such as Australia, where airspace is already less restricted. “This is a global opportunity for our students. They are excited about the possibilities,” Cook said.

The courses will be offered to current NMC aviation students, incoming students and transfer students.

The three-course sequence includes:

  • AVF 141- Introduction to UAS – Offered in the fall 2010 semester, students will build a small remotely controlled aircraft from a kit and learn skills needed to maintain it. Students will conduct flight operations to become proficient at directly controlling a small aircraft and will learn about propulsion, communication links, servos, design, materials and regulations of the remotely controlled aircraft world. Students will train at the field of the Traverse Area Model Pilots Society near Chums Corners.
  • AVG 261 UAS Ground School – Offered in the spring 2011 semester, this “ground school” for UAS will include the theory, rules and regulations of UAS.
  • AVF 241 UAS Flight School – Offered concurrent with the ground school course in spring 2011, students in this course will actually launch the UAV built in the introductory course. Due to current airspace restrictions, flights will be conducted at Camp Grayling.

UAS programming will be overseen by NMC Chief Flight Instructor Tony Sauerbrey. With an extensive back ground in aviation education and modeling, Sauerbrey is currently building a UAV to use in the course. Over the summer NMC will evaluate commercial UAVs for instructional use as well.

See a video of a UAV in flight »

Release date: June 2, 2010

For more information

Aaron Cook
Director of Aviation

(231) 995-2914 (office) or (231) 392-3793 (cell)