Upcoming drone piloting course

courtesy Don McCullough

A course on drone operation was recently taught at Bellevue College’s north campus. From Oct. 16-18, IT specialist John Stout, who has worked for Microsoft and Boeing in the past, headed the course. It was created and coordinated by the Unmanned Vehicle Institute, or UMVI, which is a startup that aims to bring unmanned vehicle operation education to college students.

During the course, students learned how to safely operate and fly an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, specifically 12 inch quadcopters that could hold cameras. The three days of the course each focused on a different aspect of drone usage and ownership. The first part of the class was a run through of safety rules and regulations where students learned some of the federal and local laws pertaining to the usage of their specific vehicles, as well as rules that would keep everyone safe in a learning environment.

The second part of the course gave students a chance to operate the UAV. First, they spent time on a flight simulator that mimicked the actual experience of using a drone, allowing them to make mistakes and even crash the vehicle without causing any harm or damaging a real device. Once students were proficient at using the simulator, they were able to apply those skills to the control of a real aircraft.

The third part of the course let students continue their practice with the drones, and also taught them a bit about maintenance of a UAV. Mark Veljkov, BC’s product manager, worked with UMVI to bring the drone course to BC. Veljkov says that BC plans to teach more beginner drone courses in November, and that the aim is to have enough students who have taken that course to offer a more advanced course in winter or spring.

Stout said that the class “is a clear step to continuing education up to and including preparations for commercial flight operations, not just the hobbyist.” Gregory Foy, one of the business owners of UMVI hopes the course will develop the skills people will need in a professional environment.

Foy believes UMVI is “still in the ramp-up phase,” and is interested in eventually offering the course at other schools. The second course on drone operation for beginners will from Nov. 12-15, sign up at Continuing Education.

“Washington is the second fastest growing state for drone employment,” said Veljkov. Foy estimates that over a million drones will be owned by Americans by Christmas, and that there will be millions of jobs in the field created in the next few years.

“The area for huge growth lies within the payloads,” said Stout, “As the drones stabilize, the payloads will increase; you will require specialized payload operators.” This means that the knowledge of using the equipment the drones carry, in addition to how to pilot the drone, will open up job prospects for students who have experience with the technology.

In the future, BC hopes to offer more advanced courses that address this, teaching students about GPS navigation and payloads as well as maintenance and operation.