Grand Forks, N.D.-based SkySkopes, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) service provider, has established a training academy at the University of North Dakota (UND) Center for Innovation. According to the company, the academy is geared toward those with a desire to learn more about unmanned aircraft and the overall industry, whether they are currently hobbyists or owners of UAS businesses.
“We’re not here to just teach someone how to run a drone business,” explains Mike Johnson, SkySkopes’ director of flight operations. “We want people to have a better understanding of the national airspace and be able to navigate it safely. ”
In addition to flight training, academy students will study topics focused on the engineering, data collection and analysis, sensor and business aspects of the UAS industry. Classes at the academy are set to start this spring, with online and in-person offerings available. Although the academy will be located on the UND campus, SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy says the academy will not compete with the university’s UAS program, but rather complement it.
“It’s real-world training, it’s industry training and it’s hands-on experiential learning,” says Dunlevy. “Students will find it’s extremely valuable to their career progression as far as flight hours logged and lessons learned in the real world.”
Students will have two options for their education. The first is an online course that aims to prepare them for taking a remote pilot certificate test from the Federal Aviation Administration. The certificate is necessary to operate UAS for commercial purposes.
The second path is in-person flight training that is tailored to the student’s existing skill set.
“I think the academy will give students a full-rounded foundation with the classroom piece as well as flight operations,” says Rick Thomas, interim dean of the academy. “Some people don’t really realize that flying these small UAS can be challenging in different kinds of environments and different rule sets apply to each environment that they fly in – so the classroom is important, as is the hands-on flying.”
SkySkopes says students graduating from the academy’s flight training program will hold certificates from the company that show potential employers they are well versed in safety procedures and flight operations.
Gary Niemeier, a Grand Forks resident who purchased a drone for agricultural and photography purposes, is the academy’s first graduate. He contacted SkySkopes seeking flight training and completed the company’s training track, which serves as the base for academy curriculum. As part of his experience, Niemeier received training on several aircraft and lessons on important aeronautical tasks, such as reading weather maps and learning airspace classifications.
“I think they did a good job at easing me into it,” comments Niemeier. “When they would put a drone up, I would just watch. I would see what they did and see what safety procedures they did. I absorbed that, and when I flew, I felt pretty comfortable.”
Partners in the academy include public and private entities, such as the North Dakota University System and UND Center for Distance Education. In all, about 10 to 20 students are expected to enroll in each class. More course offerings will be added as the academy grows, including advanced topics such as flying drones at night and an online course aimed at students in grades 8 to 12.