Maintenance Training for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

NCTC will offer training to become a UAS qualified maintenance technician beginning in the spring of 2011.


During the search for funding to develop the program he received an email regarding the possibility for the grant. Fletcher shares, “Basically I had eight days to submit a 50-page grant application as part of the ARRA.” NCTC immediately contacted Fox Consulting of Minneapolis, MN, for assistance and a comprehensive grant application was submitted on time.

Developing UAS maintenance training

The UAS maintenance course curriculum, which is currently under development, will consist of a 16-credit four-month semester. Having an A&P certificate is the only prerequisite for the UAS maintenance program. Fletcher says, “What the industry appears to be asking for in a UAV maintenance technician is a blend of several skills; an aircraft maintenance technician/A&P, avionics technician, computer programmer, and information technology (IT) specialist.” The curriculum is being developed with an eye toward civilian aviation, keeping in mind the Federal Aviation Regulations such as parts 91, 135, and 121. NCTC hopes to work with the FAA to be an authority for future UAS Maintenance Technician certification should this happen.

The course will begin with a basic understanding of the elements that make up the UAS, such as the aircraft itself, the equipment in the aircraft, the equipment used by the operators on the ground, and all that goes with the data transfer between the aircraft and the ground. Knowledge in subjects such as server languages, network protocol, and computer operating systems will all have a place in UAS maintenance. A large part of the curriculum will be related to IT in order to troubleshoot and make adjustments on various parts of — again “the system.”

“We’re also looking to purchase the basic airframe shell of a UAS for use in the school,” says Fletcher, and he goes on to say the UAS aircraft is actually simple and does not have the all of the same complex mechanical systems typical of today’s modern airliner or corporate jet. As an example, most have one powerplant, a relatively simple landing gear system, and no support systems for humans. One course they do plan to strengthen is the existing advanced composite repair curriculum.

The Northland UAS Maintenance Training Center will be located with the existing NCTC Aviation Program campus at the Thief River Falls airport. The plan is to begin by offering some limited courses in the spring of 2011, with the full course offering in the fall of 2011. The current A&P curriculum at NCTC is 20 months. As students complete the A&P program they can enter the UAS program. If you already have an A&P certificate you can enter directly into the UAS program. Graduates will receive a UAS Maintenance Certificate from NCTC upon completion of the course. Additionally, the school is working with the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies (NCATT) for an NCATT certificate. Graduates from the complete aviation program will be able to leave with an A&P, a UAS certificate, and a NCATT certificate in 24 months. Eventually they would like to offer UAS maintenance courses as part of an on-line learning program. “The UAS maintenance program gives NCTC graduates viable options for future employment in the aviation and aerospace industry,” says Fletcher.

This UAS maintenance program is not only focused on new A&P students. It is open to current aircraft maintenance technicians looking to learn new technologies or interested in a career change, and it offers an opportunity for displaced aviation maintenance technicians.

Job market

Since the UAS industry in civilian applications is new, figures relating to future jobs are estimates. I was told that 300 trained UAS technicians will be needed in the next three years. Al Palmer, UND Aerospace Director of the Center for UAS Research, Education, and Training, says, “The demand for qualified UAS technicians is growing. The UAS industry today is similar to where aviation was at the end of World War I.” There are also the spin-off jobs that are emerging. “Currently the UAS industry is drowning in data,” Palmer says, “and there are a number of opportunities for data analysis, software, and IT related companies.” NCTC is in the process of hiring additional staff to develop, manage, and to teach the new courses already having a positive economic impact on the local area. There were 425 attendees at the 2010 UAS Summit in Grand Forks, ND, indicating the interest in this potential emerging industry.

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