UND Offers First Degree In Unmanned Aircraft Operations

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The University of North Dakota has launched the first-ever bachelor's degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations, and according to instructor Mike Nelson, it's just in time. "The last fighter pilot's already been born," Mike Nelson, a former fighter pilot, told Minnesota Public Radio. "The last fighter is being built. And these [UASs] are just getting started." About a dozen students signed up for the first year of the program. Ben Trapnell, a professor in the program, told MPR the graduates of the program will help to build a new industry. "What we hope to do is educate and train students with the best available technology that exists right now, but we know that technology is going to change extremely rapidly," he said. "We may even need to teach courses in technology that hasn't even hit the street yet." Jeffrey Kappenman, director of UND's Unmanned Aircraft Center, told Discovery News the program has practical appeal. "College students like to be employable when they graduate," he said. "This market is a growing market."

The school is also working toward FAA approval for a 13,000-square-mile UAV test range in North Dakota. The "Civil UAS Operating Environment" would enable UASs to fly without requiring TFRs. The systems would not be required to have an on-board sense-and-avoid system, but would depend on a ground-based radar system capable of detecting low aircraft such as sailplanes and hot-air balloons so UAS operators could safely maneuver their craft out of the way. Ultimately, UND researchers hope to provide a strategy to allow UAS research and development outside restricted airspace.