Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LETU's Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drone) Programs: The Future of Aviation



This week, LeTourneau University's Dean of Aviation, Fred Ritchey, is traveling to Austin, Texas, to testify before the Texas State Senate in regard to HB2167, a bill that clarifies the use of remotely piloted aircraft in Texas for a number of purposes. Dean Ritchey is testifying about LETU’s new program and the need for our faculty, staff and students to be able to operate drones legally and safely as they train for their degree completion. 

When R.G. LeTourneau was alive, back in the 1950s and 60s, the world was filled with fantastic visions of the future. These dreams included flat-screen televisions built into walls and cars that zipped around quietly and without pollution. We are truly living in the Jetsons' world today. One of the most vexing challenges for technology, though, exists in the constraints placed on us by that ever present physical force: gravity. We haven’t beaten it completely, but with the advent of improved battery technologies, the GPS satellite system and radio control technologies, we are ever closer to seeing skies filled with new and exciting unmanned aircraft. 

Drones rose to prominence, as many technologies do, in the military. But the invention of smaller drones, sometimes called quad-copters or hexa-copters (depending on how many rotors they have), is taking the aviation world by storm. It is estimated that in the next ten years, the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) industry will grow by more than $82 billion. This industry is expected to create more than 100,000 new jobs. And that’s where LeTourneau University steps in. LETU has been on the cutting edge of aviation training since 1956. Just a few years ago, we were the first university in Texas to offer FAA-approved training for students to become air traffic controllers. Today, our aviation programs continue to excel in every way. And we look to the future of aviation as we step into the world of remotely piloted aircraft. 

Beginning this Fall, LeTourneau University is offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems with pilot, technician and electronics concentrations. What could graduates do with this degree? Those 100,000 expected jobs will certainly include fantastic opportunities in agriculture, search and rescue, aerial videography, inspection of oil refineries and power lines, police work and firefighting—and even commercial delivery of products as companies like Amazon.com explore that potential. LETU alumni are already pioneering this new field of aviation at industry leading corporations including Textron Systems, UA Tacsolutions, Neany Inc and UAV Aviation Services. Our Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems instructor and LETU alumnus, Ruedi Schubarth, worked for a defense contractor operating unmanned aircraft systems in support of training and contingency operations in the U.S. and overseas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to date, has expressed concern over flight safety when drones are flown in the same air space as commercial and private planes. Stories about close calls with commercial aircraft are making the news almost weekly. The FAA’s regulations continue to build and evolve over time. This shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation to the future of unmanned aircraft, but in fact a great opportunity for LeTourneau. It is anticipated that drones used for commercial purposes will require certified pilots to fly them. As both federal and state legislators thoughtfully consider the legalities of these new technologies, LETU is at the forefront of the conversation, and we look forward to seeing our own Dean Fred Ritchey advocate on behalf of our new program this week in front of the Texas Legislature. 

For more information about LETU's exciting new program, click here

To learn more about the proposed legislation in the Texas Senate, click here


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