Colleges throughout the United States are adding unmanned aerial systems operating programs to their curriculum to meet an expected demand for operators for one of the country’s most well-known weapons against al Qaeda.
The University of North Dakota (UND) became the first non-military school to offer a four-year degree in unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
Since the program began two years ago, it has graduated three students. Last spring the program graduated it's first five students, with two more graduating in August. The latest numbers show 38 students enrolled in the program last fall, the UND Office of Institutional Research told Security Management.
"We have approximately 75 students enrolled in the UAS program with approximately 50 with UAS Operations as a declared major," UND associate Professor Ben Trapnell and former Navy Pilot told Security Management.
Now schools in Alaska, Florida, and Arizona also offer UAS-related courses.
The UND program has a strong emphasis on manned aviation, including the basics like aerodynamics and air traffic control procedures in addition to unmanned vehicle-specialized training.
Unmanned aircraft are the future, Trapnell told Public Radio International. Trapnell created the degree program with the future in mind.
Drone strikes have no doubt become a symbol of the Obama Administration’s resolve to destroy terrorists groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Since taking office, the Obama administration has conducted 247 strikes, killing thousands of suspected terrorists. And because the U.S. has plans to acquire many more of the unmanned aircraft, it’s likely drones won’t be going away anytime soon.
But Trapnell has more than military applications in mind. “I’ve got about 90 different uses for unmanned aircraft. But some of the big things: agricultural uses--we can get imagery to farmers a lot faster than having to wait for satellites to do the same thing--pipeline patrols, powerline patrols, there’s the possibility of flying organs one place or another to get them there faster for transplants,” he told PRI.