On the first floor of Building 13 at Sinclair Community College’s downtown Dayton campus, rows of brightly colored quad-copters, fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and control systems are on display in the recently renovated Sensors, Avionics and Maintenance Lab of the National UAS Training and Certification Center.
In August of 2015, Sinclair officially opened the doors of the Center, a significant step in creating one of the most comprehensive and pioneering facilities dedicated to the advancement of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technologies. Created through a $5 million investment, the Center provides students with the ability to work with new UAS technologies in an immersive and hands-on environment. The 28,000-square-foot facility offers space for research, development and training on vehicles and components, all supported by leading-edge technologies and instruction.
During the initial launch of the program in 2008, Sinclair positioned itself at the forefront of UAS innovation, creating partnerships, developing leading curriculum and investing significantly to establish a nationally prominent program dedicated to meeting the needs of the growing UAS industry.
Studies on the growth of the UAS conducted through the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) have estimated that over the next 10 years, the UAS industry is expected to create more than 100,000 jobs with an economic impact of nearly $90 billion.
“Our goal was to create a strong foundation that would position the Dayton region as a leader in this emerging field,” said Deb Norris, senior vice president for Sinclair Workforce Development. “We viewed the development of our UAS program as an exciting opportunity for students to get the kind of training that would meet the industry’s projected needs for a trained workforce and as a way to build partnerships that would enable a sustainable future and encourage investment in the region.”
By 2009, the program began offering one- and two-day workforce development courses covering topics such as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards and regulations, precision agriculture and geospatial information. Sinclair’s curriculum progressed to offer the first UAS Short-Term Technical Certificate program in the state of Ohio, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in UAS degree.
A recent proposal by Ohio Governor John R. Kasich that would allow for community colleges to begin offering bachelor’s degrees has the college exploring the option of adding a four-year degree focusing on UAS. The degree would be a technical baccalaureate degree in aviation with a major in UAS, preparing students for a variety of roles in the industry, including flight operations, maintenance, data analysis, sensor operations and testing, precision agriculture and infrastructure inspection.
“Leveraging our capabilities and resources in UAS has allowed us to really accelerate the growth of our program at Sinclair,” said Dr. Andrew Shepherd, UAS program director for Sinclair. “In addition to the launch of the Center, which also offers two indoor flying facilities for testing UAS and related technologies, Sinclair also holds multiple Certificates of Authorization (COAs) from the Federal Aviation Administration that allow for flight operations at select locations throughout Ohio, as well as a Section 333 Exemption, which permits national operations.”
The program has also gained national prominence for Sinclair, which has become the first community college in the nation to be admitted into the FAA’s UAS Center of Excellence and the National Science Foundation’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
“Our affiliations with these national centers provide us with the ability to work with some of the top leaders and innovators who are working to advance UAS applications through the world,” Shepherd said.