March 4, 2013
Filed under News
Schools of higher education across the country are beginning to add programs that will teach and train the fighters of future battles not with guns, but with unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Should UAHuntsville join them?
Currently, the U.S. military operates hundreds of UAVs across the globe for precision strikes in hotspots and to conduct surveillance for tracking terrorist cells. The nature of UAV technology has gained ever greater acceptance. The evolving nature of 21st century warfare and the popularity of the American gaming culture seemed to have synchronized with gamers inadvertently self-training themselves with their PCs and PS3s. One of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s last acts as Secretary of Defense was to commission a Distinguished Service Medal for UAV pilots and cyber-warfare conductors. At present, only military personnel are allowed to pilot armed UAVs, but those used for surveillance are sometimes contracted out to private firms. In anticipation for a growing demand for knowledgeable pilots, universities with pre-existing aeronautical programs have begun to build course loads designed to teach the technical and piloting skills needed to fill these mounting positions. The University of North Dakota was the first to enroll students interested in a career in UAV piloting. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a prestigious flight school in Daytona Beach, Fla., has begun offering degrees, but so have public universities such as Kansas State and Indiana State. Many UAVs presently are being operated over Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but following Federal Aviation Administration regulation implementations they will begin operating much closer to home.
The FAA predicts that once details are ironed out, nearly 10,000 drones, a word UAV pilots do not care for, would commence flight over domestic U.S. airspace. Most will be used for surveying pipelines, border security, and many expect for disaster relief and search and rescue. “It’s a rising new frontier of aviation,” said Andrew R. Lacher, a researcher at the Mitre Corporation, a nonprofit organization that does extensive work for the government on drones. “Just about anything you do with aviation today you can do with unmanned aerial vehicles in the future,” he said.
Future UAV pilots will find themselves immersed in extensive courses detailing engineering, various sciences and technology. “The components of that degree span so many disciplines,” said Daryl S. Davidson, the executive director of the Auvsi Foundation, an arm of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “It’s not just aerospace engineering, it’s not just mechanical engineering. It’s electrical engineering, mechatronics, sensor and human factors.” These are all fields that UAH offers in spades. By pulling resources from the diverse colleges on campus, it would be conceivable for UAH to build a program for UAV piloting. Courses could include: mechanical, electric and aerospace engineering courses from the College of Engineering, national security/political science courses from the College of Liberal Arts and courses in radar and others from the College of Science. Kansas State only requires a private pilot’s license in addition to the modestly priced program requirements, between 12,000 and 20,000 U.S. dollars, which UAH could develop with a private flight school or with the arsenal. UAH’s strengthening ties with Redstone Arsenal would open numerous options and tracks.
I would like to know if the students would be interested in UAH throwing its hat into the UAV arena. Please send me your ideas and comments about a potential program to email@example.com. If I receive some good suggestions, I will use them in a future article. Sound off.