‘The sky’s the limit’
Both TMCC and UNR are working to expand their education programs that involve Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Part of this growth is a result of the FAA’s Part 107 rule going into effect August 29.
Mark Sharp, instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) highlighted the impact of Part 107 for TMCC students.
“Some students are signing up in anticipation of the rule changing,” he said.
Prior to Part 107, a pilots license would have been required to fly a drone. “Students can actually fly now,” Sharp explained.
“Part 107 is still a work in progress,” he said. “Part 107 created drone operation license guidelines.”
“We are gearing up new classes. We are also working on an associate degree in applied science in UAV,” Sharp said. TMCC currently offers a certificate for an unmanned aerial systems technician.
Sharp mentioned a big part of drones moving forward would be data processing.
“First, you have to crunch all the data, then you have to put it into a product that a customer can understand and want,” he said.
Sharp works closely with companies like AboveNV to learn what the industry wants and needs students to know entering the field.
The accuracy offered by drones will only continue to increase.
“Measurement will go from meters down to centimeters,” he said.
“Good paying jobs will (go to) people who can deliver a really good product,” he said. “A professional product.”
Class sizes in the aviation classes are 30 to 40 students in lectures, a 20-student average in classes and eight to 10 in labs because of equipment, he said. The classes currently are predominately male, he noted.
Looking to the future, Sharp anticipates jobs where a person manages an entire team of drones and pilots to collect data and produce a product.
Business Development Director of NAASIC retired Lt.Col. Warren Rapp talked about the impact for the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). He explained how the change in regulation was going to free up the university as well as commercial startups, which he estimated to be close to 200.
NAASIC, Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, is a business development arm of UNR, focused on serving as a catalyst for innovative business and the development of a technologically advanced workforce.
“There will be a clear set of procedures that will yield them the ability to go fly on the commercial side,” Rapp said.
After Aug. 29, researchers will be able to fly a drone under 400 feet. Rapp mentioned things like surveying fish on the Truckee River or agricultural farm data as research to benefit from drones.
“From the perspective of the university, it is a great thing,” he said.
Rapp explained that when the FAA chose the six test states for drone research, Nevada was the only one to be chosen as the whole state.
“Nevada is a great place to fly UAVs, you’ve got the weather for it, the lack of population outside of two or three majorly populated areas and you have the terrain from sea level dessert to almost 10,000 foot mountains,” Rapp said.
“From the drone side, we are still heavily involved with NASA. We have another round of flying coming up this fall,” he said. “That will be more of the UTM, traffic management system, that we are working with NASA and the rest of the state to develop a system you can actually control, and management of UAVs in national airspace.”
Rapp mentioned collaboration with other sites, but said that physically the first line-of-site testing will be happening at the Reno-Stead airport with NASA.
“We are the first place in the United States, officially, with FAA and NASA to begin the beyond line-of-site testing that will happen in September.”
Circling back to education, Rapp explained the need to adapt curriculum to current trends.
“I think because Nevada is growing on the technology side with Amazon, Tesla and now NASA working with us here in northern Nevada regularly, the sky is the limit.”
“Last year we started our autonomous systems minor,” Rapp said. UNR will also have an autonomous systems major, likely, in the next couple years. They are also working on developing a course with Boeing that will focus on ground control stations, data management and software application that is universal.
Currently with the autonomous systems minor, “every class is full,” he said. They have also been working on getting more women into the engineering program and have been seeing more women sign up for the autonomous systems minor.
Rapp explained the next chapter of the UAVs.
“It’s not just being able to fly the drone. It is going to be about what are you doing with it, what are the technical applications,” Rapp said.
It appears that companies like what they are seeing in northern Nevada, coming out of UNR and the engineering program, “we are relevant and tackling current issues and willing to tackle new issues if they give them to us,” Rapp said.
“There are jobs coming from Sierra Nevada Corp, to NASA, to Boeing and others. We are now constantly being pinged,” he said.
In addition to TMCC and UNR, Pathways to Aviation, Elko and Silver Springs Airport are involved in drones and UAVs in northern Nevada. Pathways to Aviation will be at the Reno Air Races in September offering classes, workshops and the opportunity to fly a drone.
Rapp mentioned some smaller UAV things happening in Elko. He also mentioned Hawthorne in correlation with Flirtey and their recent 7-11 drone delivery. Flirtey went from three employees to now having 15 full-time and 25 overall.
Rapp added that Silver Springs Airport is working on a UAV school that shows people how to fly different types of UAVs as well as preparing people for the new testing as a result of Part 107.
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