A recent agreement signed by UCM President Charles Ambrose and Brig. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, presents a unique opportunity to both students and airmen.
The agreement allows UCM to offer academic aviation programs at Whiteman beginning in January 2013 at the Professional Development Building at 511 Spirit Blvd.
A big part of the agreement is the arrival of Remote Piloted Aircraft, or RPA, courses.
Tony Monetti, UCM’s assistant dean of aviation and executive director of the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport, sees RPAs, typically called drones, as a way to bring UCM’s aviation department into the future. Monetti is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and B-2 Spirit pilot.
“The marketplace is hungry for what RPAs offer,” Monetti said. “Eventually we want to have a full curriculum with a pro pilot degree in remote piloted aircraft,” Monetti said.
Starting in 2013, there will be more RPA pilots than manned aircraft pilots. Companies such as McDonald’s will use them to monitor potato crops. Monetti foresees fire departments and law enforcement agencies using them daily as well.
RPAs currently can only fly below 400 feet and must stay at least five nautical miles away from airports. However, a report on defensecommunities.org states that, pending privacy concerns, airports such as Skyhaven could become test sites to assess whether RPAs can be integrated into manned airspace. The FAA’s goal is to have RPAs integrated by 2015.
During the spring 2013 semester, the new services offered at Whiteman will include one class on RPAs with a full major in effect by 2015.
Monetti said that there will be two people teaching the course, Darren Smith, an assistant professor of aviation, and a retired colonel who was an unmanned air vehicle pilot, whom Monetti didn’t name.
The new course is an open elective and works as an introductory course, according to Smith.
“With this course, we don’t presume any previous knowledge of RPAs for our students,” Smith said. “The textbook is a very specific introduction to UAVs (unmanned air vehicles) and the policies surrounding them along with their operation.”
Monetti hopes that students will take advantage of the opportunities the RPA program will present. He is looking to get companies in the RPA industry more involved and integrate classes, such as RPA design, with the companies so students get real-world experience while taking classes.
“We’re looking to be the trendsetter with the RPA program,” Monetti said. “We know it’s the future and we’re the tip of the blade.”
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