University UAS Programmes Booming

Russell Peters is a junior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University , one of the top U.S. flight-training schools, who has no intention of taking to the skies.

Standing next to a 3-foot-wide (91.4 centimeters) plane that searches for objects on the ground using artificial intelligence, he talks about how his fascination with robotics led him to the Daytona Beach, Florida, campus to prepare for a career building and operating drones.

Alex Mirot, a retired Air Force major who piloted Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft built by General Atomics Inc. of San Diego, coordinates Embry-Riddle’s degree programme in Unmanned Aerial Systems Science. In less than one year, 75 students have enrolled to major or minor in the subject, he said.

“To me this is kind of amazing,” Mirot said in an office festooned with photos, ribbons and other memorabilia from his 10 years in the military. “That’s how popular this is as a technology.”

The program offers two tracks for students: training on simulators to be drone operators, or non-pilot roles such as operating remote-controlled cameras and managing unmanned- aircraft programs.

Students can take classes in how unmanned systems work, robotics, business management, operating remote sensors such as cameras and radars, and drone simulator training, Mirot said. They must take courses in electrical engineering and programming, he said.

Across campus at the Department of Mechanical, Civil and Engineering Sciences, students like Peters study how to build and design unmanned aircraft, Charles Reinholtz, the department chairman, said in an interview.

The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks established a drone-study major more than two years ago and has graduated 17 students, Benjamin M. Trapnell, an aeronautics professor who developed the program, said in a phone interview.

Graduates can expect to make starting salaries of at least $50,000, and perhaps double that if they accept jobs in dangerous locations, Trapnell said. That dwarfs entry-level salaries as airline pilots, which can be below $20,000, according to government data.

He said his graduates, who must obtain FAA commercial pilots’ licenses, have landed jobs with drone operators and manufacturers such as the Aeronautical & Space Systems division of Information Systems Laboratories Inc. of San Diego and AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which is owned by Textron Inc. of Providence, Rhode Island.

Source: Bloomberg


  1. I would appreciate it if your next article includes the first school in the World to offer degrees in Unmanned Systems Engineering (USE). The Unmanned Vehicle University offers online MS and PhD degrees in USE. An Exceutive Certificate Course is also offered online and includes UAV basics. For more information see the website at Call 206-787-2807.

  2. Oklahoma State University has the first of its kind UAS option, available for both the degrees of MS and PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. It provides students with a recognized emphasis in graduate level work in the area of Unmanned Aerial Systems, and hands-on analysis, design, construction, and flight testing of UAS platforms. Research Opportunities in UAS Design, Aerodynamics, Flight Path Management and Airspace Integration, Sense and Avoid, Controls, Structures, Aeroacoustics, Propulsion, Communications and Operations, Sensors and Payloads are available. Research also includes flight testing and operations to be conducted at OSU UAS airfields in Stillwater and in partnership with the UML at Ft. Sill, OK with access to restricted airspace.

  3. In the video you said the only two schools offering a degree in UAS is UND and Embry. There are other schools offering UAS degrees in Engineering like someone stated above. If you are referring to just operating them and flying them, then you should include Kansas State Salina. Our school offers full Bachelor Degree in UAS. Not only are we flying on simulators, but we fly actual real unmanned aircraft!!!

  4. Add Purdue University to the growing list of significant institutions offering degrees in unmanned aircraft. We have 8 courses specific to unmanned topics including design, build and fly courses utilizing the latest in autonomous technology. The remainder of the degree is engineering principles, private pilot license through instrument rating, and management. We do offer a 4 course minor plan of study for other areas of interest wanting to have a level of knowledge in UAS. Researchers from AAE, MET, Agriculture, and Building Construction Management, to name a few, have operating systems that are being tested for their specific purposes. We flew the new Headwall Nano HyperSpec yesterday over ag research plots as an example. Check us out on youtube Boiler Bytes Unmanned, Fox 59 News, New York Times, and lastly our admissions office here at Purdue. I look forward to working with some of you as we move forward.

  5. Thanks for sharing this great article. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Science degree gives graduates the expertise they need for employment as operators, observers, sensor operators, and operations administrators of unmanned aircraft systems.

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