Monroe Community College is launching a training course in the operation of small unmanned aerial vehicles, becoming the first New York institution to help educate a new generation of drone pilots and technicians.
The first six-session course, taught by the co-owner of a Canandaigua UAV educational company,SkyOp, begins Nov. 11.
The non-credit class is being offered through MCC’s Corporate College, the professional development and training arm of the Brighton-based institution. The course costs $1,499.
“It’s an introduction into small unmanned aerial systems,” said the instructor, Brian Pitre. “It helps students … under what’s currently going on in this new industry and to make informed decisions. There appears to be pent-up demand for this type of information and understanding.”
The MCC course is focused not on large military drones but unmanned aircraft small enough to be lifted by a single person. Such aircraft — known variously as sUAV’s or sUAS’s or, pejoratively, as little drones — are soaring in popularity worldwide.
Good-quality basic small UAVs can be purchased for less than $1,000, though higher-end systems can cost 10 or 20 times that sum. The most popular small UAVs are multirotor helicopter-type craft, though fixed-wing planes also are used. Most are equipped with small video cameras or other sensors.
Pitre uses three quadcopters for demonstrations during his course, and students are given a small UAV for learning the rudiments of remote-control flight.
Small UAVs are expected to form the basis of a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States when the federal government finally issues rules for commercial use.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity with these,” said Norm Isler, a Brockport resident and private aircraft pilot who took a “beta” class that Pitre conducted to field-test his curriculum.
“UAVs can take the place of a helicopter that costs over $1,000 an hour to fly. A device that’s under $10,000 can do what that helicopter can do,” he said. “In numerous applications — agriculture, utilities, real estate, first response — UAVs can do the work faster, simpler, cheaper.”
Enthusiasts are awaiting promised regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has decreed that small UAVs may be used by hobbyists with some limitations but cannot be used commercially. Hundreds of government agencies, universities and other non-commercial users have obtained special certification from the FAA to research and test the use of both small and large UAVs, however.
Some of those tests are being conducted in a consortium based in central New York. The group, NUAIR Alliance, was named by the FAA to operate one of six UAV test beds.
In summary of its plans for UAV regulation, the FAA has said it will require people who want to fly the aircraft for commercial purposes to obtain certification of training or competence.
Until the agency issues UAV rules, however, no one knows what the certification will involve.
“Our intention is to begin with this training until the FAA publishes its certification requirements,” Pitre said. “We feel we’ll be perfectly positioned to deliver certifications once the specifications are released.”
Pitre said he believes MCC is the first community college or four-year college in New York to offer a course in UAV operation.
Several dozen two- and four-year schools in other states offer such courses, with some offering degree programs in UAV operation, maintenance or technology.
In New York, Rochester Institute of Technology is considering offering courses in unmanned systems, and could collaborate with other universities that also are affiliated with NUAIR, said Agamemnon Crassidis, an RIT mechanical engineering professor who serves as NUAIR’s academic director.
Mohawk Valley Community College in the Utica-Rome area is working on a curriculum in UAV maintenance, spokesman Richard Haubert said. The college has applied for a state grant to further that effort, though it will be some time before a curriculum can be finalized.
Pitre said the MCC Corporate College course is a good start for someone interesting in venturing into the world of commercial UAV use.
“Students can learn to fly, understand the different types of flight systems, and most importantly gain an understanding of safe and legal flying practices,” he said. “These classes are designed to help both individuals and companies understand the application and uses of this transformative technology in their business.”
To learn more
The Monroe Community College drone course will be offered at the Corporate College building at 1057 East Henrietta Road, across from the main campus in Brighton.
The class has room for 18, and slots are available. The course will be offered again in March.