By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Big Bend Community College (BBCC) is an aviation institution. It has been an aviation training center for 50 years, one of the oldest in the country, and is now host to UAS Pilot Training and Technical Management Programs. Byron Noel, Unmanned Systems Operations Coordinator, for BBCC said that while Moses Lake, Wash. may seem remote, it is a hub for many big businesses such as Dell, Microsoft, Amazon, BMW Carbon, Boeing, Mitsubishi, Genie Power Lifts, Titan and REC Silicon.

Now, Big Bend is becoming a hub of unmanned systems training in Washington. They are currently offering Professional UAS Remote Pilot Training in the form of a Certificate of Accomplishment, and a Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Technical Management Degree.

But Noel said, “The crux of the program is for people to be able to do something useful. You won’t go out and get a job as a drone pilot without some industry knowledge or background.”

From his perspective the value of becoming a drone pilot or having an education in UAS is that it is a tool for use with a new skill-set. He said that people already working fields such as:

  • agronomy,
  • construction,
  • architectural planning,
  • real estate,
  • cinematography,
  • natural resource management,
  • mining,
  • infrastructure inspection,
  • wind turbines,
  • law enforcement,
  • and fire and police departments

would add this training to their skill-set to bring something new to the job.

He adds that, “Most use cases in the industry involve the above jobs…I think the biggest market is for people to add it onto their other skills.”

In the Certificate of Accomplishment program, which is nine months in length over Fall, Winter and Spring quarters, students will take ground school, remote sensing systems, UAS mission planning, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) laws and policies, UAS flight lab and Part 107 Commercial UAS Remote Pilot.

He added, “You must operate the drone, but you need to understand the data, which is the most important part of the operation.”

For example, in an agricultural scenario, a farmer may request a crop review by drone to deal with a perceived issue. But the UAS pilot will need to understand which drone to use, what type of sensor will be needed, and the type of information needed to solve a problem for the farmer.

In the case of inspection, for example on wind turbines, the operator will need to understand what to look for and the type of report the hiring company is seeking.

The Technical Management program is an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree that “prepares students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform UAS operations.

The degree includes:

  • mechatronics and sensor technologies,
  • system troubleshooting,
  • programming,
  • data collection and management,
  • flight operations and mission planning,
  • and the analysis of data collection and management,
  • data analysis and information using global positioning system (GIS) and geographical information.”

Therefore, the program would allow a student to take the basic classes of an AAS degree along with learning how to understand the data and use cases and repair the tool.

While unmanned systems are fun to learn to operate, and may be considered new and exciting, Noel again cautions that for business applications it is all about understanding the mission to be performed, and the collectible data.