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COCC’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Has Taken Flight

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We view the reality of drones depending on how the media portrays their varying uses: from super-secret, government-funded stealthy military crafts, to small, radio-controlled units purchased online that can be operated with only minutes of instruction. Even Amazon wants to grab a part of the air space action by delivering lightweight packages through this method. Yet, the application of this technology is much more far-reaching.

Though commonly known as drones, the term unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is preferred by COCC’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Degree Program. With graduates possibly completing the program as early as Spring term of 2015, the program prepares students to become professionals in the world of remotely piloted aircraft. While many programs are engineering and design based, COCC’s UAS program focuses on operating the vehicles. Students will also learn UAS mission planning and execution, troubleshooting, maintenance and equipment testing.

The two-year program is not meant to train operators of recreational drones you may see flying below 400 feet and in sight of the user. This intensive two-year program was borne from COCC’s Aviation program and prepares graduates for the broadest spectrum of employment.

“The UAS Degree program is a natural extension of our aviation program,” says Karl Baldessari, aviation program director. “The program will teach professional, licensed operation of UAS. Our job is to prepare students for employment. Commercial applications are extensive.”

Though Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations are still pending, COCC is teaching the UAS program as though UAS operators are required to be a certified pilot. This fundamental training allows students exposure to the aviation environment, communication, equipment and commercial airspace — all focusing on safety in the skies. Central Oregon’s diversity of terrain and elevation is well-suited for training purposes.

The next level of training is UAS simulation. The software in the COCC simulator is designed by Insitu, Inc., which is based in Hood River, OR. Insitu is on the cutting edge of the UAS industry. Insitu has been researching, developing and manufacturing UAS for more than 10 years. Partnering with a leader in the UAS industry lends credibility and creates opportunity for the COCC program.

Kevin Sivertson, Insitu veteran and part-time instructor, is breaking new ground for COCC by translating his experience as a UAS operator to a classroom environment. Sivertson, who holds a master’s in education, credits his military knowledge for being recruited by Insitu, Inc., where he trained and operated UAS in support of international government contracts.

“With the evolution of FAA regulations, the ‘Wild West’ of unmanned aviation is coming to an end,” says Sivertson. “Especially in controlled air space, safety is paramount.”

Oregon is one of only six locations to have already received FAA approval to create and operate test sites. COCC is working closely with the site in Warm Springs in development of a capstone course that will to allow students to have actual experience with launch and recovery of UAS. Currently only three industries are approved by the FAA for commercial use of UAS:  the motion picture industry, realtors in specific states and precision agriculture. Potential future employment includes:  search and rescue, wild land firefighting, aerial photography, research, monitoring, surveying, farming, damage assessment after a storm and many other applications.

“Although it’s too early to tell, COCC is hopeful the local community will benefit from the availability of this unique training and education.” says Theresa Freihoefer, department chair. “If we can help create jobs or draw industry to Central Oregon, the program will have exceeded our vision.”

The program has already proven that through time, effort and collaboration, it can make connections with the community and partnership within the industry, allowing for a stronger program which ultimately leads to students’ increased preparedness for employment.

“With how quickly technology changes, there is no way you can work in a vacuum and remain on the cutting edge,” says Baldessari.

Contact Karl Baldessari, aviation program coordinator at kbaldessari@cocc.edu or go to www.cocc.edu/aviation/uav-degree-program to learn more about this exciting program.

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