SALINA — Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus has become the first entity in the United States to receive approval from the FAA to provide remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) commercial flight training to both students and outside companies.
The authorization, which is referred to as a Section 333 exemption, allows Kansas State Polytechnic to create and conduct a flight training program for unmanned aircraft operations. Previously, motion picture and television filming and aerial data collection have been given permission for commercial UAS operations, however, the approval has been limited to only training internally and in these two mission-specific areas alone.
Kansas State Polytechnic’s authorization is open to students both internal and external and is not restricted to any one particular application, university officials noted.
The program, which will incorporate the new flight training with current curriculum, is modeled after the campus’s manned professional pilot program.
Starting in fall 2016, students will progress through multirotor training and multirotor instructor to fixed-wing operations and finally fixed-wing instructor. They also will focus on integration of components such as autopilots and sensors as well as employment activities.
Students are required to have a private pilot certificate with instrument rating and will have a specific number of unmanned flight hours they have to procure. Just as professional pilot students can become certified flight instructors teaching their peers to fly, once an RPA student reaches a certain rating, he or she can act as an instructor in entry-level flight courses.
Those learning commercial flight training can do so through two avenues that are exclusive to Kansas State Polytechnic. They can train out in the field under the auspices of the nationwide Certificate of Authorization that was included with this FAA approval. Students can also fly on campus inside the enclosed unmanned flight facility.
The bachelor’s degree program began in 2011 and since doubled in enrollment almost every year. The initial degree focused on flight and operations; in fall 2015, a second bachelor’s degree was added in design and integration. Kansas State Polytechnic also is a core member of the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
In October, the campus transformed from Kansas State University Salina to Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.