The Unmanned Air Systems program is still in its infancy, but shows a world of promise. In the U.S. alone, 7 billion dollars are spent on the UAS industry. The demand for UAS-qualified pilots has skyrocketed in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. Just at this school, UAS studies has the ability to tie into each degree program, from aeronautical engineering to global security and intelligence studies.

Only in its second semester, the UAS program is already branching out across the state to make connections with similar organizations. Professor Nelepovitz said that in the previous few weeks, Fort Huachuca had been contacted for a partnership. The base is located in southern Arizona, and is the Army’s Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence. The Air Force’s UAS Center, Creech Air Force Base, is located in Nevada and is also a possible partner.

”Working for the military is a given,” Nelepovitz stated about future job opportunities, “but we are focused heavily on the civilian side, for instance: local law enforcement, FEMA, the Forestry Service, and private industry.” Some of these connections the school is looking for are through Arizona’s government. As it stands, unmanned vehicles are only allowed to fly in certain airspaces. Right now, the state of Arizona is competing to get the rights for one of six approved areas to fly unmanned aircraft systems. This could lead to partnerships between our school and Arizona’s state universities, especially NAU, which has a contract with the Forestry Service to map the forests of northern Arizona.

The problem of having space to fly has not impacted the curriculum taught on campus. The program goes beyond just the mere piloting of the aircraft. Over a series of five courses, students learn about not only flying a UAS, but also about the many different sensor systems that can be housed in a UAS and for what purpose and mission they are used for. One course even involves going out to the airport to work with the individuals in air traffic control to run simulated flights. On top of this, the program focuses on Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which gives the courses much more flexibility. “Our goal is to develop a skill set of all the different parts that go into these systems so our students can go out and get that job,” Nelepovitz stated.

If students are interested in flying UAS, they can get involved with Team Awesome, the campus’ student-led UAS organization. This group has been instrumental in helping get the new UAS program off the ground and routinely competes against other teams throughout the nation.

While the interest in UAS studies at our school is high, the program right now is designed for students as a minor in UAS, and is mostly directed at Aeronautical Science majors. There are a few GSIS students enrolled in the minor, and there is an introductory UAS class offered at a 200 level. Because UAS studies is an “exponentially expanding” field, it is not outside the realm of possibilities to see a larger program take form in the future. For now, however, a larger program, or even separate degree field, is still early in the research process.

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