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It’s not every day that students get to prepare for a rapidly growing field by playing with some of the coolest tech toys commercially available, but Rend Lake College’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) course sequence offers to do just that.

With the program’s inaugural year under his belt, instructor Chris Edwards is looking forward to taking off again next spring with a trifecta of classes that promise to be both practical and entertaining. The three required courses run one after another in a single semester. Upon completion, participants are granted an occupational certificate.

“I spent 18 months or so writing the courses. It’s such a new technology. There are so many uses and applications, I wanted to make sure I had everything lined up. What we ended up with were three great courses,” Edwards explained

“So, now you are actually able to go out and take an FAA certified exam to go out and get your FAA Unmanned Aircraft Pilot’s license. That allows you to go out and actually get hired and make money flying these aircraft. Here at Rend Lake, we are focusing on helping students prepare for their FAA exam and teaching novices how to fly responsibly in the national airspace.”

Edwards continued by explaining the rapid growth of the sector, “It’s supposed to create $82 billion worth of GDP bottom-line by 2020 and create over 100,000 jobs just in the United States. So, there is a lot of room for growth. It’s an exciting time to get into the field.”

Applications for UAS run the gamut from agricultural work to fire and rescue to insurance adjusters.

UAS hovering W

Eric Knapp, RIGHT, of Tamaroa hovers a UAS over a landing pad as part of the hands-on component of RLC’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems course sequence. Don Bigham, CENTER, of Mt. Vernon, and volunteer instructor Marty Cox, LEFT, look on. Click on the image for a larger view. 
(ReAnne Palmer/RLC Public Information)

“Instead of sending a company rep out into the field to walk all 300 acres of it, you can take an aircraft like what we use on campus and go up 200 to 400 feet and see the entire field. Then, if you have areas that you want to go investigate further, you just drop down in altitude and view it. All of that can be done without ever leaving your parked truck,” he stated.

Edwards detailed how the technology could be applied to search and rescue missions. UAS with infrared sensors can sweep large areas of ground to locate lost individuals. Law enforcement has also looked at utilizing the technology to track suspects who flee into wooded or fielded areas. Recently, the aircraft have been utilized for crash-scene reconstruction on the interstate, allowing officers to gain a better idea of the entire crash site without employing a costly helicopter.

In addition to learning about UAS, students will also be instructed on some basic video editing techniques to better understand and utilize the aircraft’s ability to capture video, a vital tool for professional photographers, event coordinators and insurance adjusters.

Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS 1200) covers many facets of UAS systems, including an examination of safety procedures, human factors, payloads, and information gathering. This course also incorporates flight simulations and live flying exercises.

Advanced Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS 1201) is an in-depth look at programming and flying UASs which will take place over these five weeks with a special look at the selection and operation of sensors, and post-processing and analysis of data.

The final class, Unmanned Aircraft Law and Test Prep (UAS 1202), will examine current FAA guidelines on the flight of a UAS system in U.S. airspace. It will also cover all applicable state and federal laws, plus serve as the test prep portion to study the FAA material to pass the UAS Certification Exam.

To become a certified pilot with the FAA, students must be 16 years of age, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, and be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a UAS.

More information about UASs can be found on the FAA’s website

For more information about RLC’s UAS program, contact Chris Edwards at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1278 or [email protected].