Sinclair Community College presses on in the development, teaching and application of drone technology despite the region not being selected late last year as a federal Unmanned Aerial Systems testing site.
The college announced Monday its Sinclair Workforce Development office has applied for two new Certificates of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a new unmanned aerial system platform at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and Wilmington Air Park.
“I think everyone was surprised that Ohio was not selected,” said Deb Norris, vice president of Sinclair Workforce Development. “We have deep heritage in manufacturing, we have composites, we’re very, very heavy into data analytics. Then Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a Center of Excellence for UAS. There are so many synergies here that connect with UAS. None of that has changed.”
Certificates were requested for a Lockheed Martin Indago VTOL, meaning “vertical take-off and landing” vehicle. Should the application be approved, it would be the first quadcopter operated by Sinclair’s UAS Training and Certification Center. The college is hoping for approval by mid-April, Norris said. The college anticipates adding more aircraft in the future and is currently in discussions with two additional sites for UAS testing, one of which may be announced soon, she said.
Norris said adding a quadcopter to the fleet will help round out the practical and real-world experience for those participating in classes and programs at the Sinclair UAS Training and Certification Center.
“It really does give you the capability to hover. The application for a quadcopter is a lot more driven toward first responders, where they’re wanting to look over an area,” Norris said. “What we are wanting from a UAS perspective is making sure we have a very holistic view into UAS with a lot of different applications: precision agriculture, geospatial mapping, and first responder readers are the three primary commercial applications we are looking at.”
The vertical take-off and landing capabilities of the Indago will provide training opportunities in smaller airspace areas where Sinclair’s current fleet of three fixed-wing UAVs can’t operate. The college already has FAA certification to fly the fixed-wing craft at both Wilmington and Springfield. Norris said the college is certified to fly in four mile by five mile area at Wilmington and a one mile by two mile area at Springfield.
Annual worldwide spending on unmanned aerial systems will double in 10 years according to the market analysis firm, Teal Group. A 2013 market study conducted by researchers found expenditures for both military and civilian systems would climb from $5.2 billion.
Norris said the college is also seeing big gains in the numbers of students looking to follow that money into careers.
“Our enrollment trends in UAS have been increasing pretty dramatically,” Norris said. “Nobody’s really sure what all these jobs are going to look like. But what we do know – a lot of people emphasize the ability to fly them, operate them – but really the ability is going to come down to the data.”