University of North Dakota Launches Nation's First Collegiate Program in Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The program addresses the increasing demand for qualified pilots and sensor operators in the rapidly growing field of UAS.

(Grand Forks, North Dakota – Oct. 15, 2009) The University of North Dakota John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (UND Aerospace), a world-renowned center for aerospace research, training and learning, is the first educational institution in the nation to offer an undergraduate major in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations. The program addresses the increasing demand for qualified pilots and sensor operators in the rapidly growing field of UAS, high-altitude aircraft that are flown remotely from the ground for both military and commercial uses.

Launched in August 2009 as the only collegiate program of its type in the world, the curriculum places UND Aerospace in the midst of expanded U.S. acceptance and application of long-endurance, multi-mission aircraft capable of delivering persistent situational awareness and rapid strike capabilities. UAS are primarily used by the military for long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering, and on missions that are too dangerous to risk the lives of flight crew. Civilian uses include firefighting, law enforcement, border control, ocean surveillance and weather prediction.

Describing the current shortage of qualified UAS professionals, UND Aerospace Dean Bruce Smith said, “UAS is an emerging technology that has experienced dramatic growth over the past decade. As platform use increases with military, law enforcement and other commercial applications, the demand for qualified pilots and operators will increase as well. Our program offers tremendous career opportunities to students who are passionate about aviation and aspire to push the envelope of innovation.”

UND Aerospace combines a liberal arts core curriculum with comprehensive aviation education and all-season flight training. It supports over 100 airplanes and helicopters, the world’s largest collegiate training fleet. More than 7,822 students have graduated from UND Aerospace since its founding in 1968.

Consistently rated as one of the top aviation programs in the nation, UND has received more than $24 million in federal, state and private funding since 2006 to research UAS performance data and national airspace issues, such as how UAS can be integrated into existing traffic patterns and airspace used by commercial and general aviation aircraft.

About UND Aerospace

UND Aerospace is an international leader in collegiate and contract aviation education and training services. Flying over 100,000 hours annually, UND Aerospace also has facilities in Spokane, Wash., with Spokane Falls Community College;; Phoenix, Ariz., in conjunction with Chandler-Gilbert Community College; and Crookston, Minn., with the University of Minnesota.

With more than 1,900 students from all over the world, undergraduate and graduate programs—including several distance-learning degree programs— that lead to a variety of rewarding careers in aerospace are offered through five different academic departments: aviation, atmospheric sciences, computer science, earth system science and policy, and space studies. The UND Aerospace complex is the most technologically advanced environment for aerospace education, training and research in the world. For more information, visit

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