a remotely piloted aircraft is flown during a demonstration on the UAFS campusThe University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, through a series of industrial and military partnerships and advanced, cross-discipline training, is offering students access to an unmanned aerial systems degree that is unparalleled in the nation, that will prepare them for careers in one of the nation's top emerging fields. 


The Associate of Applied Science in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) at UAFS incorporates coursework in operations, maintenance, regulations, data collection, and data analytics of remotely piloted aircraft, and prepares students to use the technology across various industry sectors through either an operations or analyst concentration.


"We know this technology is going to make an enormous economic impact in our state," said Dr. Edward Serna, interim chancellor at UAFS. "Studies show Arkansas alone will see upwards of $500 million in economic impact from UAS technology in the next ten years, and we're proud to offer UAFS students a degree that prepares them to capitalize on that figure the moment they graduate."


National studies by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) further estimate that the United States could see 100,000 new jobs in unmanned systems by the year 2025 and project an $82 billion national economic value.


"We hold our institution and our faculty to a high standard when it comes to graduating career-ready students," continued Serna. "The instructors in this program have extensive backgrounds working with this technology in both military and industrial settings. These experts will develop our students to be not just knowledgeable technicians, but impactful leaders in this disruptive industry."


The opportunities for application of UAS technology are growing exponentially as unmanned vehicles are increasingly able to perform more complex missions with greater operational flexibility and at far lower costs than traditional methods. Drones are being utilized by federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as in private enterprises and industries.


"These machines have incredible potential to provide us information in a much easier, safer and more efficient way than how we have gathered data previously," said Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at UAFS.


The advancing technology is transformative in precision agriculture, where UAS can monitor crop health in real time, reducing loss and increasing crop yield. Agriculture remains the largest industry in the state of Arkansas, with more than 49,000 farms operating statewide, and adding $16 million to the state's economy each year. UAS technology is also advancing health and safety in infrastructure management and utility inspection, fields in which falls and electrocutions have traditionally netted thousands of deaths and injuries annually; assisting emergency and disaster response and management; and, spurring groundbreaking scientific research of wildlife and protected ecosystems.


"UAFS has invested in several UAS platforms to train our students to be industry ready," said David Pollman, director of UAS programs at UAFS. "We have a Sentera PHX with a dual 4K NDVI camera used for precision agriculture. We also have a Yuneec H520-G capable of doing inspections, mapping and collecting point cloud data for 3D modeling. We chose the Yuneec platform because of its Hex copter design and increased stability. Also part of our training fleet is a DJI Phantom 4, a Bitcraze Crazy Flies drone swarm, and a virtually limitless array of modules for flight training in our distance learning system."


To keep its students on the cutting edge, UAFS utilizes VAMPIRE® Pro pilot training simulation systems. The flight simulation system is delivered through AEgis Technologies, a world leader in simulation and training for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Vampire suite of simulations includes more than 8,000 fielded systems utilized for training courses across seven countries, all Department of Defense services and multiple government agencies.


"This technology is allowing us to reach students who can't traditionally attend physical classes because they work full-time jobs or are deployed overseas," said Pollman. "With the simulator, we can track our students' flight times and insert scenarios to ensure they are collecting the data appropriately and safely. Whether it's a bridge inspection or a wind turbine, the simulator allows us to create the most realistic environment." 


The fully online format of the class allows students across the country to participate in this top-of-the-line training no matter their location. UAFS instructors are also able to provide students real-time analysis and scoring with scenario and flight playback to create an interactive training environment that more effectively increases proficiency and accuracy. As an institution with a history of investing in workforce development, UAFS is in a prime position to innovate programming with an intense focus on the real-world application of UAS technology, as well as technical training on data analytics and management of the systems themselves.


While the technological advantages of optical, thermal, LiDAR and multispectral sensors - and the wealth of data points they produce - are significant benefits of UAS technology, UAFS encourages a complete understanding of those points, training students to analyze mission data as well as its potential limitations. Similarly, graduates concentrating in the operations field will develop a full working knowledge of design, repair and maintenance procedures for numerous UAVs.


Coursework in these areas offers unique additions to the UAS degree paths, ensuring UAFS graduates are agile in the workforce. 


Thanks to the comprehensiveness of the program, UAFS also offers students opportunities to collaborate with many industry leaders through local partnerships. Active partners in the UAFS UAS program include Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company, a regulated electric utility company that serves over 750,000 customers in Oklahoma and Arkansas; Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative Corporation, a not-for-profit electric cooperative that serves more than 58,000 customers in Arkansas; the Arkansas Army National Guard, based at Chaffee Maneuver Training Center (formerly Fort Chaffee) in Fort Smith; and the Arkansas Air National Guard's 188th Wing based at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith.

 "These partnerships will allow us to develop internationally competitive programming," said Serna. "To have the support of the 188th Wing is incredible. Their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and targeting efforts are absolutely revolutionary. And our ability to conduct training at Fort Chaffee and learn from our Army Guard partners while providing them with actionable data from our student flights creates an unmatched opportunity for our students."


In addition to creating learning opportunities for students, these military partnerships will offer the Guard units access to a talent pipeline of UAFS graduates, strengthening the mission-readiness of potential recruits. 


For more information on the program, contact Pollman at 479-788-7772 or david.pollman@uafs.edu. https://cast.uafs.edu/programs/uas

Rachel Rodemann Putman, Interim Public Information Director
Photo Credits: 
Rachel Rodemann Putman
Date Posted: 
Friday, March 29, 2019
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