The sky's the limit for new drone program at SDSU

There's a new program at South Dakota State University that is, quite literally, taking off. Students are learning how to fly drones safely and effectively. It's one of the only programs of its kind in the region.

"It's so cool. I've told my little brother this is what you need to do. This is perfect for anyone who likes video games or things like that," SDSU Aviation Sophomore Madison Sullivan said.

Madison Sulivan is an Aviation student talking about the growing trend of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), specifically drones. She's using a simulator for a better understanding of what else will be in the skies once she becomes an airplane pilot.

"I think it's a great skill to have. Everyone will want a drone pilot whether it's a construction company or scout their crops. It's a wonderful skill and teach someone else how to do it," Sullivan said.

In a course called Geography 270 in the SDSU Department of Geography, the UAS Certificate Program begins with simulation in the classroom.

"We want our students to be familiar with the controls before they go outside so they don't cause accidents. I want the students to have accidents on the simulator so we can avoid breaking equipment the university is so kind to give to us," Instructor Byron Noel said.

Byron Noel is one of the instructors in the Department of Geography. Three years ago, while he was still a graduate student obtaining his Masters Degree, he had an idea.

"I saw a gap in the market and the curriculum for that. So, I decided to design my thesis project around creating a curriculum for this," Noel said. "Once the board of Regents gave us permission and the FAA gave us our official license, it's become easier."

He says North Dakota has a similar program but they focus more on research and development of the large, military-style UAS which small-to-medium sized businesses are not likely to use. SDSU's program focuses on using drones in commercial settings.

As drones become more commonly used, the program gets more popular.

"I'm excited to see where this goes and I hope good things come from it," Sullivan said.

UAS Certificate requirements include 12 credits total. For more information about the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certificate, visit the related link in this page.