Arizona University prepares pilots to fly unmanned aircraft - WNEM TV 5

Arizona University prepares pilots to fly unmanned aircraft

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PRESCOTT, AZ (CBS5) -

Aviation schools say there could soon be an increased demand for pilots, but not necessarily the kind who will fly you and your family to New York.

We're talking about pilots for unmanned aircraft, or drones.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is one of only three universities in the country offering a program in UAS (unmanned aircraft systems). And the university is seeing more and more interest every year.

"We started in the early days with about five or 10 students. And that quickly mushroomed, and we're a student body of under 2,000, so 40 out of 2,000 is a significant portion of our student body," said ERAU Chancellor Dr. Frank Ayers.

The future is looking bright for the program.

"We see the program probably continuing to grow 10 or 15, 20 students a year, to a size of 200 or 300 students," Ayers said.

Currently, Embry-Riddle Prescott only offers a minor in UAS, but it could be offered as a major in the future.

"If it comes together as a major, it still needs to have the disciplines of engineering, aviation, of security, business, and intelligence all combined together," said Ayers.

Students tell us that flying an unmanned aircraft carries a whole different set of challenges.

"Unmanned is a lot about the systems integration and making it autonomous and then actually getting it in the air flying by itself, hopefully operating on its own for the most part," said student Nick Harris.

In addition to military use, future unmanned aircraft are expected to be used in police, fire, search-and-rescue, and agriculture.

"It's kind of an extension of the automation that we already put into aircraft. But unmanned is going to make a big jump once we can work the safety issues out, and I think most of our business is going to be in that area," added professor Dr. Thomas Gally.

The university also features a lab where manned and unmanned aircraft are flown  simultaneously, the only one of its type in the country.

"We're able to incorporate, and kind of simulate unmanned systems in the national airspace system," said student Zachary Beard.

Embry-Riddle added that on Thursday, a professor and student left for the Philippines with an unmanned aircraft that will aid in aerial mapping following last month's devastating typhoon.

In addition to Embry-Riddle, the University of North Dakota and Kansas State University are the only institutions offering either a major or minor in UAS.

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