Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has been awarded a contract to aid in the development of curriculum and online training for small Uncrewed Aerial Systems (sUAS) operators on behalf of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Office of Aviation (also known as the Air Wing).

Dr. Scott Burgess, an associate professor of Aviation and the principal investigator for this project, noted that while the government has established training standards and robust administrative procedures for crewed systems globally, there are currently no equivalent standards for uncrewed systems. Embry-Riddle’s role in this initiative is to leverage its expertise in uncrewed systems application and safety, drawing from its distinction as the first academic institution worldwide to receive the Trusted Operator certification from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) in 2018. The university will apply this expertise to develop and implement a standardized training program, potentially benefiting government employees, law enforcement organizations, and civil aviation authorities across the globe.

“Their intent is to standardize sUAS training, certification, and standardization globally,” Burgess added. “Our job is to offer our existing sUAS professional education, thus enabling their crews to perform to a set standard, as well as assist in setting conditions that provide a level of knowledge, skills, and abilities equivalent to or surpassing established international sUAS crew standards.”

The concluding phase involves collaborating with the Air Wing to create course materials and providing training to students, allowing them to obtain industry certification in sUAS.

Dr. Burgess further explained that the Worldwide Campus Department of Flight has been diligently working for the past six years to enhance the integration, training, and standardization of UAS operations across various commercial and governmental sectors. He noted that the federal government approached them for a reason, as they have excelled in these areas while also possessing expertise in aviation safety. Burgess also mentioned that the Department of State (DoS) has been receptive to their ideas and is open to further suggestions to establish an exemplary program.

These innovative ideas will be drawn from a wealth of industry experience and a range of projects undertaken by Embry-Riddle to advance drone technology. In 2021, for example, the university obtained a unique waiver, allowing them to remotely train aspiring drone pilots through online video streaming platforms, a pioneering approach. The Department of Flight has a long-standing history of supporting government agencies, including the FBI, Daytona Beach Police Department, South Florida Water Management District, Conservancy of SW Florida, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, and the Government of the Bahamas. During the same period, Embry-Riddle secured nearly $2 million in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to gather risk-assessment data, facilitating the safe integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

Embry-Riddle researchers also continue to harness uncrewed systems in innovative ways to address real-world challenges. Some applications are safety-focused, such as utilizing drones to enhance tactical responses to active shooters or deploying them into hurricanes for more precise storm predictions. Others are unexpected, such as using drones to map ancient cities.

“We are very pleased to partner with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Air Wing in this endeavor,” said Dr. John R. Watret, FRAeS, chancellor of Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus. “As leaders in UAS education programs, we are extremely well-equipped to support these operators and ensure they receive the highest level of training.”

Burgess is spearheading the project alongside other drone specialists from Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus College of Aviation, including David Thirtyacre, Chair of the Department of Flight, and Associate Professors Joe Cerreta and Anthony Galante.

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Post Image- Instructors Joe Cerreta, Anthony Galante, Scott Burgess and David Thirtyacre teach and train Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle students at Embry-Riddle. (Image Credit: Scott Burgess)