Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

R-MA's drone program reinforcing the Air Force JROTC emphasis on flight

The recreational use of drones is increasing at a steady pace, and the number of potential jobs is increasing even more rapidly as new uses for the small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are developed each day. In fact, according to Christopher McFadden’s article “What Types of Drone-Related Careers Are There,” published on interestingengineering.com on July 6, 2017, “There are a predicted 100,000 drone-related careers set to flood the jobs market over the next few years. These will range from aerial photography and/or cinematography to mapping and modeling, not to mention thermography to name but a few.”

With the combination of Air Force JROTC and a Flight Program already in place on campus, R-MA is in a unique position to give its students the skills to take advantage of this opportunity. The two departments began the development of the program this past school year, opening up a club that would build drones and then hopefully use them to compete in a national drone competition. 

The program got off to a strong start, with nearly 20 students expressing interest in the new program. However, clubs typically take a backseat to academics and athletics, and by the end of the school year, only a handful of students remained regularly engaged. 

“We didn’t develop the program as fast as we wanted to, but we got a good start,” said R-MA Director of Flight Training and Operations Ryan Koch. “Building the drones took longer than expected.” Koch said part of the reason for this was that many of the students were learning as they were going. For example, some of them were soldering for the first time as they built the UAVs. Those who stuck with it became creative as the program progressed; when one student broke a prop guard during a test flight, he attempted to use R-MA’s 3-D printer to build a new one instead of ordering a spare part. (That part did not work and had to be printed again and still did not work causing the student to go back to the drawing board.)

“We learned a lot and with it being a yearlong class next year, we will have the time needed to make some real progress, “”said Koch.

That new course, “Unmanned Flight Operations,” will introduce the students to the aeronautical science of small UAVs, and provide the instruction needed to take the Federal Aviation Administration’s written exam to earn a Remote Pilot Certification. It will cover topics such as the scientific understanding of aerodynamics, unmanned aircraft construction, remote aircraft systems and components, meteorology, human factors, imaging, and real world applications, to name a few. The students will have full use of the Academy’s inventory of drones, which includes two Quadzilla quadcopters and six Blade Nano QX quadcopters. 

Koch and the Air Force JROTC staff still maintain the goal of participating in the national competition. However, the day-to-day collaborative possibilities between departments beyond just the Flight and AFJROTC departments also gets Koch excited. “There are a lot of things we can do with this program, modifications that will apply to other academic departments and areas like engineering and physics. It allows experimentation for carrying loads—how the craft is engineered, whether it is affected by weather, temperature. There is tremendous potential for academic program overlap and real world learning.”