Kansas State University at Salina recently created a unmanned aircraft system pilot degree program. The program, which piggybacks off of existing research at the school, is one of only three in the US.
Military support and high-level aviation industry connections have contributed to the success of KSU-Salina’s unmanned aircraft research program. The program is responsible for a number of revolutionary developments in unmanned aircraft such as the “Wolverine” helicopter, which boasts nearly an hour of flight time. The aircraft is no longer than 3 feet and fully automated and, with nearly twice the flight time typical of this type of aircraft, looks to be quite successful.
The primary focus of many of the school’s aircraft has been disaster response. Their mobile command center and wide selection of unmanned aircraft, some with flight times approaching 30 hours, create a very innovative disaster relief organization that is equipped to produce their own aircraft and operators.
Perhaps the most crippling handicap of unmanned aircraft is their inability to practice see-and-avoid like traditional manned aircraft. KSU-Salina is currently researching in this area to create solutions that would allow their aircraft to sense and avoid obstructions or other aircraft automatically. If unmanned aircraft were given this capability, it would likely lead to widespread implementation as it strips away the biggest obstacle to integration into the national airspace system.
KSU-Salina’s proximity to Fort Riley has led to a very close relationship between the school and the US Army who operate UAS such as “Reapers” or even Black Hawk helicopters that can operate without pilots. While most military UAS are usually larger aircraft, the Army is also looking for smaller aircraft such as those developed by KSU-Salina that could be deployed by a convoy to detect IEDs.
The need for UAS pilots and military grants have allowed KSU-Salina to acquire state of the art technology and software to establish a degree program to create UAS pilots. The program, which is especially popular with enlisted personnel at Ft Riley, blends a UAS curriculum with traditional flight training curriculum. When students graduate, they are fully qualified to operate unmanned aircraft and, having also received private pilot certificates with instrument ratings, manned aircraft.
KSU-Salina’s program is an exciting addition to the UAS training offerings. Their strong research programs, relationships with the military and corporations, and their take on UAS pilot training will bring a much needed boost to this growing industry. With the continuation of their efforts, it won’t be long before UAS are successfully integrated into the national airspace system safely operating right beside manned aircraft.