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Wrigley, UND Announce UAS Flight Training Program

The University of North Dakota John Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences next year will offer a cutting-edge flight training program for future pilots of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and university officials announced today.

The university, in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, is developing a curriculum that will incorporate the Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), a state-of-the-art UAS simulator used to train flight students.

Wrigley said the UAS flight training program will further solidify UND’s  national leadership in aerospace sciences and augment work underway to expand the state’s larger UAS industry. Wrigley is chairman of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Authority, a six-member commission assembled to advance the state’s UAS opportunities. The commission will also provide oversight should North Dakota be selected one of six test sites for UAS integration into the national airspace.

“The work underway at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, the UAS Center of Excellence and the UAS Training Facility are fortifying North Dakota’s position  as a leader in UAS technology, commerce, research and training,” Wrigley said. “The Predator Mission Aircrew Training System is another advantage that North Dakota has in providing the highly skilled workforce that is needed to advance this growing industry and to secure a national UAS test site designation.”

Last week, the university started a pilot program to test the curriculum for a 10-week course that will teach students how to operate remotely piloted aircraft. The university plans to officially launch the new training course in January 2014 with 32 students.  

"This is another major development in Unmanned Aircraft Systems education, research and training at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and the University of North Dakota," said UND President Robert Kelley. "It's fitting that this new training program is being announced during our Homecoming and Spirit Week celebrations, as it demonstrates the top-notch people and curriculum that are represented here and that are being recognized around the world. We want to thank Lt. Gov. Wrigley for his leadership in these endeavors and commend people such as Al Palmer, Bob Becklund, John Bridewell and many others for their efforts to make these opportunities happen."

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is providing $5.48 million for UND to conduct research and develop the flight training program that will incorporate the use of the PMAT simulator.  Through the partnership, the Air Force will glean valuable research that will help determine the most effective and efficient strategies for UAS flight training in the military.

Using the same model for training that UND has used for manned aviation for decades, the students in the course will learn on a family of simulators before advancing to a PMATS to learn what it’s like to operate a UAV that can fly between 18,000 and 30,000 feet.  UND was the first school nationwide to offer a bachelor’s degree in UAS operations, beginning its program in 2009.

“When the military started using UAS years ago, they had to immediately rush them overseas, so it took a lot of time to train the pilots on how to fly the vehicles,” said John Bridewell, professor of aviation at UND and the lead researcher on the program. “This research will allow us to use the latest teaching technology to figure out a way to make the current training more efficient, reducing the amount of time it takes to bring someone up to competency, which will ultimately save tax payers money.”

The UAS PMATS Training Center, which is an extension of UND’s UAS Center of Excellence program, was established in 2011. The state provided more than $2.7 million in enhancement grants to fund the purchase of the simulator. Funding was also used to remodel the building provided by the U.S. Air Force and budget for staffing. To date, North Dakota has provided more than $14.5 million through the Centers of Excellence/Centers of Research Excellence programs in support of the UAS industry.

The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of selecting six locations around the country to test the integration of unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace. As a leading contender, North Dakota has appropriated funding of $5 million to support the test site if it receives a designation.

According to Bridewell, the UAS flight training is just one more reason the FAA should choose North Dakota for its UAS test site. Once the FAA integrates the nation’s airspace, UND - through its research and training programs - will be in a position to be lead the nation in the safe and transparent use of UAS technologies.

 

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