As the drone industry waits for guidance from regulators, a nonprofit in Kentucky is preparing high school kids to embrace UAV technology in a big way. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, which works to fund education programs for over 50,000 children in the state, began helping schools develop aviation and aerospace programs in 2015. The goal: to prepare kids in one of the poorest states in the nation to enter the future with marketable, in-demand skills.
Eastern Kentucky’s coal mining industry has been in decline for decades. Political promises notwithstanding, the economic reality is that coal mining in the region is all but dead. In 2016, the state saw its coal production fall to the lowest level since 1934. And during the first two quarters of last year, coal mining jobs in the region fell by over 27 percent. More discouraging still, despite efforts by local stakeholders to attract new industry, those jobs have proved impossible to replace.
So KVEC is taking a new tach — building a workforce for the booming drone industry from the ground up. It developed a curriculum and provided eight participating high schools with flight simulators and drone kits. The program attracted about 150 students over the past year, about 70 of whom designed, built, tested and ultimately raced their own quad-copter drones.
The next step, says Paul Green, KVEC’s director of career and technical education and Appalachia technology initiative, is to build a drone testing site. The $25-million USA Drone Port in Hazard, Kentucky, will help budding scientists learn drone technology and prepare them for jobs in the drone industry. It will also provide them with a space in which to hone their inventions and gain real-world, practical skills. Green envisions a four-year academic and technical program that would allow teenagers to graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to pass the FAA Part 107 test, a prerequisite for anyone who wants to pilot an unmanned aircraft in the United States.
KVEC also hopes the Drone Port will attract industry scientists and entrepreneurs from the private sector, government programs and the military. As planned, it will feature a 500-foot runway, multiple helipads, an advanced manufacturing and 3-D priniting facility, an indoor testing lab, office space and two hangars large enough to accommodate military Predator drones. There will also be ample classroom space.
”We want to not only have a site in which drone testing can occur, but we want to develop a workforce so that as the drone industry grows, we will automatically have people that have skills to work in the various areas of drone technology, whether it be drone pilots or technicians or designers or manufacturers,” Green said.
He estimates that the facility will take two years to build.
Meanwhile, students are learning skills in the classroom that will help them transition to productive employment when they graduate. In fact, according to Bart Massey, project director for the USA Drone Port and an instructor who teaches drone technology at a local community college, two of his students have already landed industry jobs.
Meeting the challenges of the growing drone industry will require strategic partnerships of all kinds. And at The Carmoon Group, we are prepared to partner with both seasoned and novice entrepreneurs. Just give us a call today to set up an appointment to discuss your needs. Or if you prefer, reach out to us online and we’ll get back to you at a convenient time.