Community colleges play a vital role in training workers and in linking businesses to the human talent they need to grow and excel. Sinclair Community College has become a nationally recognized leader in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) by collaborating with the Dayton Development Coalition (DDC) to establish the UAS Training and Certification Center and meet the future demands of this growing industry. Sinclair’s Board of Trustees recently committed an additional $1.4 million to UAS to ensure that the college has the resources it needs to move forward with its phased and deliberate plan to emerge as a national UAS leader.
A study presented at the annual Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) 2013 Conference in August has forecast an increase in spending that will double annually to more than $90 billion over the next 10 years. With a robust history in aviation technology and development, and the proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Dayton region is primed to become a destination of choice for UAS research, training and manufacturing.
Understanding that a well-trained workforce is vital to attracting businesses and driving economic development, Sinclair has been working with key industry and government organizations to develop a UAS program that meets the demands of this evolving field. Sinclair’s focus is on commercial applications of UAS, from precision agriculture and geographic information systems to disaster response and search-and-rescue operations.
This summer, the college took another major step in developing the program by securing additional Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These certificates are necessary for public operation of a specific unmanned aircraft activity and a vital part of the UAS industry. Sinclair now has COAs at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and the Wilmington Air Park, making it the first community college in Ohio to secure airspace through this process. Each UAS platform needs its own unique COA, and Sinclair currently owns multiple platforms, including two fixed-wing Vireo and two fixed-wing SPEAR vehicles, and leases one additional vehicle.
In developing the curriculum for Sinclair’s UAS program, the college sought to focus on practical real-world applications of current and emerging non-military UAS vehicle and sensor technologies, using classroom instruction, leading-edge simulation and hands-on vehicle operations. Courses currently being offered by the college include reviews of laws and regulations regarding UAS operation and the role that UAS will play in precision agriculture in the coming years.
Sinclair is also offering the first UAS Short-Term Technical Certificate in the state, a two-semester program designed for entry-level technical positions in the emerging UAS industry. The non-credit offerings will also be made available through the college’s Workforce Development Learning Management System, powered by Desire2Learn, the first implementation of this new resource. These course offerings will be available in online synchronous and asynchronous formats in addition to current traditional classroom settings, making Sinclair’s unique UAS curriculum easily accessible to markets outside the region.
With a strong foundation in place, Sinclair is now in a position to begin working with businesses from around the country to test new vehicles, sensors and equipment, in conjunction with the college’s COAs. Sinclair is in the process of pursuing additional COAs as the college continues to develop and adapt its curriculum and expertise in the UAS field to meet the needs of students and industry leaders.
The college recently hosted an aerospace company from Minnesota that needed to test out new sensors and was unable to obtain the authorization necessary to perform the flights in its home state. By working with Sinclair and utilizing the college’s COA at the Springfield airport, the company was able to conduct flights and test out sensors that are designed to provide farmers with information on crop health, irrigation needs and fertilizer application.
Sinclair is continuing to build on its successes in launching the UAS program by implementing additional curriculum development, introducing a competency-based content model and driving accreditation standards and national certifications in partnership with the FAA over the next three years. Businesses and students seeking a career in an emerging market with a bright future are beginning to see the benefits of the hard work that’s been done to get the program up and running.
“It is truly exciting for Sinclair to be a part of this rapidly evolving industry, and we are committed to our region’s and state’s success as key players in UAS,” said Sinclair Workforce Development Vice President Deb Norris. “As the industry moves forward and UAS functions and jobs continue to be defined, we look to capitalize on that research and turn it into state-of-the-art training that will yield highly skilled workers.”