As more and more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) take to the skies in both military and civilian roles, the demand for qualified and trained mechanics to work on these specialized systems increases. Demand has finally hit the level that one school is creating a dedicated program to train mechanics to maintain and repair unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The Northland Community & Technical College Unmanned Aircraft Systems Maintenance Training Center located in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, announced that it will offer this new program to existing A&P mechanics in early 2011.
The need for a specialized training program stems from the fact the unmanned aircraft systems are different from conventional aircraft. First of all, UAS consist of the aircraft itself, additional sensor equipment not normally found on other aircraft, an up- and down-link infrastructure for communicating with pilot and sensor operators, and the ground control station itself. An article on AMTOnline.com indicates that the new program will create a hybrid aircraft mechanic with training in airframe and powerplant repair, avionics repair, computer programming, and heavy emphasis on information technology skills.
Students who want to take the program must currently hold at least FAA airframe and powerplant certificates. That means new students can attend the 20-month A&P program at Northland and then transition to the UAS program upon completion. People who already hold A&P certificates are welcome to enroll directly into the UAS program. Graduates of the program will receive a UAS Maintenance Certificate, and plans are in the works to add the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies (NCATT) certificate as well.