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The Experience Matters

    5 reasons why a drone degree is valuable for working in the unmanned industry

    by Julee Cobb

    The rise of unmanned aircraft in today’s society is undeniable. There are rescue drones, delivery drones, inspection drones, and even entertainment drones, like the ones used in the 2018 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. A technology that for many years was seen primarily in a militaristic sense now has every type of application imaginable. 

    While the regulatory pathway may still be a little murky, the potential of this technology couldn’t be clearer. Just take a look at the projected numbers: In a 2013 economic report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, 100,000 new drone-related jobs have been predicted to be created by 2025; a more recent study published by PricewaterhouseCoopers says the global market value of “drone-powered solutions” is more than $127 billion.

    This industry is only going one way – up – and for individuals interested in turning their unmanned hobby or fascination with the technology into a career, there is no time like the present. But what kind of training is necessary to work in this rapidly growing field? Read on to learn five compelling reasons why a bachelor’s degree in UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) will give you the best foundation to launch your career.

    1. It’s not just about flying


    When you hear the word drone, images of a remotely operated aircraft buzzing across the sky probably come to mind. While unmanned aircraft are known for their flying ability – in small spaces or unsafe conditions, when capturing aerial imagery or as recreational fun – there is much more to a field mission than flight operations.

    First of all, stick and rudder skills, or manually flying the aircraft, usually account for only about 10 percent of a typical mission. Beyond flight operations are maintenance procedures, integrating new technology, calibrating the camera system, processing collected data, and composing proper documentation for an FAA inspection, such as flight logs and maintenance records.

    A bachelor’s degree in UAS can offer the comprehensive knowledge that is needed to be able to perform these diverse tasks. Four-year programs generally encompass learning opportunities across the spectrum and include some hands-on or in-the-field training, giving students a variety of foundational skills.

    1. Remote pilot saturation

    In August 2016, the FAA implemented the first operational rules for civil and commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems. Known as Part 107, the most significant of these guidelines requires those who want to fly a drone for non-hobbyist activities to secure a remote pilot certificate. Since that time, more than 60,000 people have successfully received that authorization. Sixty thousand!

    If an individual only has passed the basic requirements to be able to fly lawfully, with no other education, how does he or she stand out among a saturated group? Though the aeronautical knowledge test – which must be passed in order to earn a remote pilot certificate – is challenging, how many of us have studied really hard to pass an exam only to forget most of the information weeks or months later?

    Earning a bachelor’s degree in UAS will elevate a person past the competition. It will give you four years of not just learning, but also applying knowledge in a wide range of unmanned areas. Earning a remote pilot certificate is only the minimum requirement from the FAA – even a 16-year-old can obtain one. Be better than average.

    1. Influence the future of the industry


    The unmanned world is still in the early stages of development, so you have the power to be a major influencer in where drones go from here. 

    Numerous universities and colleges across the country perform UAS-related research regularly and if you enroll in a bachelor’s degree program at one of these schools, you have the opportunity to get involved and directly shape this industry for years to come.

    Many institutions are partnering with the FAA to perform drone research and provide information that will help inform the aviation authority’s decision-making process. There is the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research, also known as ASSURE, which is comprised of 23 schools – including Kansas State Polytechnic – and has been allocated five million dollars to explore such important unmanned areas as low-altitude operations safety and human factors. The FAA also has UAS test sites located at universities, which give the FAA relevant data for integrating drones into the national airspace system.

    1. Employer preference/career versatility

    A quick search of the internet for drone-related jobs yields listing after listing of companies asking for candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, for example: UAS Trainer at Denver-based business Juniper Unmanned; flight operations lead at Textron Inc.; and UAS Payload Operator for Silent Falcon UAS Technologies in Albuquerque.

    In addition to employers preferring it, a bachelor’s degree gives individuals versatility within the unmanned job market. You may be hired by a company that only has the budget for one person to manage and perform all of the drone-associated responsibilities. Or, you might find yourself down the road a few years wanting to transition from one field, like agriculture, to another, such as infrastructure inspection.

    When your understanding and experience is diversified, you will have the flexibility to choose your career path or change from one specific industry to another.

    1. Invaluable connections


    Making connections and developing relationships are crucial elements of securing your place in the unmanned industry; and earning a bachelor’s degree in UAS will provide you a platform to begin building a professional network that you will draw upon throughout your career. 

    Your classmates will be your future peers in the drone world and a solid bond in college could land you an interview or personal recommendation at the company for which they work. Teachers usually have a professional rolodex and if you make a positive impression on them, they could connect you with their contacts. Businesses frequently collaborate with universities and colleges on internships, research projects or class assignments. These are perfect opportunities to rub shoulders with members of industry.

    You never know who will be able to help you along the way, so put yourself in an environment where you can make as many invaluable connections as possible. 

    If you are interested in turning your curiosity for or previous experience with drones into a career, the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus in Salina offers two bachelor’s degree options: UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration, as well as a UAS minor. Contact Kansas State Polytechnic’s admissions office at 785-826-2640 or for information on the programs or to schedule a campus tour.

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