Scott Wilson, Professor of Aviation, 406.657.1059,
RMC Media Team, 406.657.1105, 

Photo: (top photo) RMC students participating in the Innova Flight training program. Standing with the “SandstormTM” aircraft from left to right is Colton Wood, Nathan McKenty, Joseph Mutchler, Jerid McCabe, RMC Professor Scott Wilson, Jacob Ramirez, and Kalen Park

(bottom photo) Kalen Park in Aviation Hall in Billings, Mont., remotely flying a UAS located in Kalispell, Mont.

RMC starts minor degree program in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

UAS training

BILLINGS, February 18, 2015 – Rocky Mountain College is excited to announce a new academic minor in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). As part of this inaugural event, the Aviation Program at RMC has partnered with Innova Flight Training & Unmanned Systems Inc. (USI) from Kalispell, Mont., to teach a UAS lab course on February 13 – 15 and February 20 – 21, 2015.

During the two-weekend course, Doug Forest, a flight instructor from Innova, and Hovig Yaralian, a pilot and aerospace engineer from USI, will help train six RMC students on the basics of proper UAS operations. “This is the first time Innova and USI have offered this training for a college aviation program,” said Yaralian.

The training program utilizes proprietary “LongshotTM” technology to teach UAS flying skills via Internet linkage. Forest said this is actually the first time in the world that college aviation students have received such training. In real time, RMC students will sit in RMC’s Aviation Hall in Billings, Mont., and remotely fly USI trainer aircraft located 300 miles away at an FAA-approved, private UAS airfield near Kalispell, Mont. Forest stated, “We are so happy that Rocky has the vision to get this done. My hat is also off to RMC's Scott Wilson, a retired F-14 fighter pilot – he truly gets it."

RMC Professor of Aviation Scott Wilson, who will teach several of the UAS classes, noted, “Rocky is on the leading edge of the wave.” With the $11 billion-per-year UAS industry expected to grow to $100 billion over the next decade, a minor in UAS has the potential for a major career impact. The industry is expanding by the month, which means demand will continue to increase, as will salaries. “I have not seen any other college training that would provide such an immediate and lucrative return on investment,” said Wilson. “These students will be able to graduate from Rocky at age 22 with potential incomes ranging from $80,000 to $120,000 per year. We always try to give our students options – everything we do is to help them get good jobs,” said Wilson. “By completing this UAS minor, they will be qualified to fly quad-copters and fixed-wing UAS. This will help put our Rocky graduates near the top of the resume stack.”

Drone FlyingThis type of training fits the mission statement in RMC’s Aviation Program, which is: “To educate and train individuals to be professionals and leaders in the aviation industry.” Wilson added, “There have also been inquiries from companies in the UAS community to form internships with our students. Viewing the UAS industry is like watching a cumulus cloud grow and expand. This is a very exciting time and place in aviation, and I anticipate more UAS course offerings.”

For students, a key factor is accreditation. Rocky’s aviation program has passed the rigorous standards of both FAA certification and the Aviation Accreditation Board International. The UAS minor also blends into Rocky’s Environmental Sciences program, with Professor Luke Ward teaching a course in Geographic Information Systems and another in Remote Sensing. 

With this rapidly expanding industry, Wilson foresees the UAS minor including an advanced lab course, where students would focus their training exclusively on flying the Sandstorm UAS, “which is a smaller version of the UAS that federal agents fly along the USA borders and over trouble spots around the world,” explained Wilson.

The sky is the limit for possibilities this UAS minor can offer to students. “UAS are ideal for jobs that are dull, dirty, or dangerous,” said Wilson. UAS could carry infrared and ultraviolet cameras to measure crop health and moisture content in the soil, helping the farmers manage their crops. Those with normal cameras could help track livestock and check fences. UAS can also conduct a wide variety of mapping and surveying projects. 

Significantly, potential UAS uses have already migrated from law enforcement and military to extensive civilian uses. For example, in Japan, 90 percent of the crop-dusting is done by UAS. Another example includes search-and-rescue operations, where one UAS operator can cover 10 times more terrain than ground searchers for just a fraction of the cost.

Tourism is a big component of Montana’s economy. Wilson explained, “UAS can be used to film overhead videos of skiers, rafters, hikers, mountain climbers, and horseback riders. Search-and-rescue teams can locate and assist an injured person more efficiently using UAS. They can also be used to film gatherings, such as weddings, reunions, and sporting events. Potential UAS uses in Montana are limited only to the flight of a person’s imagination.”

RMC President Robert Wilmouth also shares in Wilson’s enthusiasm for the UAS minor program. “Rocky Mountain College wants to offer our students a wide variety of career options and this minor can be something that offers lucrative opportunities. By partnering higher education with this multibillion-dollar industry, the opportunities for our students are limitless.”