GRAND FORKS HERALD
Five years ago, Northland Aerospace had seven students. Now, it has 122.
But that dramatic increase may look scrawny by comparison if the Grand Forks Air Force Base becomes designated as a test site for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are more commonly known as drones.
“It would ignite the industry, even more so than UND and its other partners already have,” said Curtis Zoller, the academic dean of aerospace programs at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.
“Both the military activity and civilian activity will grow because the expertise will be there. It would grow activity and industry partnerships.”
Expectations are that North Dakota will be named a drone site, although no announcement has been made. In addition to invigorating the local economy and stabilizing the base’s future, a UAS site should hike enrollment in Northland Aerospace’s three study offerings.
One Aerospace program is to become a certified UAS maintenance technician. Also under Aerospace’s academic umbrella are programs in aviation maintenance technology and imagery analysis, which interprets photographs, video and satellite images from drones.
“A rising tide floats all ships,” said Anne Temte, Northland president. “There will be multiple opportunities for our graduates to be placed in this area.”
Temte said Northland can handle about 200 students in its Aerospace programs, “but beyond that we’ll have to recruit more faculty members.”
Northland’s history in aviation maintenance goes back 53 years. Its “classroom” is a newly built hangar of 86,000 square feet and more than 20 aircraft at the Thief River Falls Regional Airport.
“My facilities are fabulous, unlike any other program out there,” Zoller said. “We are not limited by our facilities, although we have plans to bring new technologies into the classroom.”
Its UAS and imagery analysis academic programs concentrate on civilian activities, such as precision agriculture and rescue emergency response rather than military uses, Zoller said.