Incredible experience sheds light on career opportunities for drone pilots

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The top students from two university drone training programs have just completed a comprehensive two-day combined operations flight training exercise that includes a range of theoretical topics and hands-on photogrammetry experience in an emergency simulation and drone flights to the edge of visual line of sight in precise navigation and situational awareness to test various heat-sensing cameras.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Amanda Moberg, a recent graduate of Warren County Community College’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program, who was one of the Warren graduates attending the workshop. It was hosted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) at that school’s training center about a mile from Daytona Beach International Airport. “They covered an incredible number of practical and important topics.” said Moberg.

Alfreda Johnson, who is about to complete her master’s degree in unmanned systems at ERAU, said the training has given her an even broader view of what she can do in the profession. “I was unsure of my career plans with drones because there are so many opportunities – and this training has brought to light so many more,” she said. Johnson became interested in drones about six years ago while working on community events and special projects at schools in Little Rock, where she is employed to support school computing. “There was just something about them that fascinated me,” she said. “I was amazed at the areas where drones were used. After starting at Embry-Riddle in 2020, the number of options has steadily increased – and this workshop has added even more. Johnson is interested how drones can be used in emergency situations and has begun working with the region’s Civil Air Patrol, which it hopes to continue.

WarrenUAS graduate and TOP Certified Remote Pilot Instructor Amanda Moberg works with a student pilot to complete a hands-on flight evaluation.

Moberg was particularly struck at the recent workshop by the possibility of flying drones in a new location near an airport — and exploring the restrictions and concerns that come with that proximity. “For all the students, this program was filled with stimulating and real-world experiences, which made it very useful,” she said. “When you travel to a new place, nothing is familiar, so there’s a whole new set of variables you have to think about, which is important in this line of work.”

Moberg, who is certified to provide drone flight training and assess pilots for certification, plans to receive her bachelor’s degree from ERAU and plans a career as an instructor in the field. She said the opportunity she had to work with Embry-Riddle professors as they evaluated students for their remote pilot operator certification was invaluable.

Various subjects
Joseph Cerreta, associate professor at Embry Riddle College of Aeronautics and lead instructor for the training, said the intensive exercise is designed to introduce students to a wide range of practical scenarios and the latest equipment and hands-on experience. He explained that it included lectures and discussions, training exercises with a variety of equipment, and individual and group research reports on key UAS topics. It is part of the university’s drone degree program, which offers three undergraduate and four master’s degree tracks and is available to students year-round, almost entirely online. Warren students typically enroll in the fall for two years of training — and will soon do so at a new drone and robotics center on campus.

Warren president Will Austin, who is a pilot and helped with the training, said the scope of student work in the workshops is different from most industry training, with participants solving unscripted problems. of the real world through practical exercises and relevant research. “They gain experience with all sorts of equipment in a variety of circumstances – but really need to understand the technology behind the operations and the theory involved to demonstrate understanding,” he said.

Austin noted that the workshop is one of many ways the two major drone programs have begun collaborating. They have established a seamless path for students in the two-year Warren program to progress to earning an Embry-Riddle bachelor’s degree and have structured a network that enables the exchange of faculty and research and educational sessions collaborative.

“This workshop is another great opportunity for our students that came out of this partnership with Embry-Riddle,” he said. “They get the chance to take part in this sophisticated live scenario training, which allows them to both demonstrate and hone the key skills they’ve learned in our program. But they’re also exposed to a range of new technologies and ideas from the top aeronautical university in the country and can collaborate with other leading students and faculty in this growing field.

Embry-Riddle instructors David Thirtyacre and Scott Burgess finish setting up and inspecting the flight training area before the day’s activities.

Cerreta explained that the exercise, where students stay close together for the two days and collaborate closely in discussions and research, was designed to cover basic to advanced aircraft controls, both manual and automatic. It also covered emergency checklist and procedures, flight planning, review of platform-specific features, aerial photography, post-flight processing techniques, pilot application and management. crew resources. “Students examine critical elements of regulation and safety while using examples of basic and advanced controls, maneuvers and procedures,” he said. “They learn to use best practices and unmanned piloting skills while avoiding prohibited actions and launching and operating the vehicles safely. We pack a lot, but students find it useful and very convenient for their work in the industry. It includes practice with Embry-Riddle’s own simulation software, which allows for “powerful simulation with five graded simulation assignments,” Cerreta said. The students are then also assessed during real flight exercises with specific tasks, which they must present in a video of their work.

Specific missions
Austin was particularly impressed with the three specific exercises offered by the training to the students. “In one, they were asked to navigate over heat-emitting objects placed in cylinders to evaluate and compare three types of thermographic cameras, then report their findings,” said Cerreta. Another had students fly over a simulated accident scene where they had to take measurements from the air between certain checkpoints with different cameras and then compare that data to the ground measurements they had also collected. This meant that students had to use flight planning and operations and their knowledge of data and statistics.

“This exercise grew out of work Embry-Riddle did with the Daytona Beach Police Department on a homicide investigation, where we were required to measure distances between key locations and evidence and collect other information about the scene,” Cerreta said. “The police used three ground officers for three hours to collect 120 data points while we were able to collect two million data points with a remote pilot and a visual observer working for 24 minutes with drones. This is something we have reviewed with students who have piqued their interest.

Another exercise gave students the opportunity to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Warren and Embry-Riddle are among the very few higher education institutions to have received FAA BVLOS waivers, so their students have the opportunity to experience this real-world scenario. “We were able to fly higher and further than I have ever done before. I have to say it was daunting at first, but doing it gave me a lot more confidence in my skills,” Johnson said.

Students learned BVLOS flight techniques and studied variations in aircraft type, color and shape as they relate to flight when vehicles are difficult or impossible to see, Cerreta said. Austin and Cerreta noted that further collaborative efforts at both campuses are planned to enhance institutional and instructor knowledge and provide valuable educational opportunities for students. Cerreta will travel to Warren this summer to review its learning materials, share thoughts on best practices, review Warren’s AUVSI TOP training procedures and aviation documents, and provide advice to Warren faculty on program improvements. One of the primary goals of the collaboration is to develop a transparent, transferable associate’s degree that can provide standardized learning outcomes so future employers know what to expect from graduate UxS pilots and technicians.

Details are available online about the Warren and Embry-Riddle training programs.

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