Aeronautics assists Virginia Tech

Unmanned Aircraft Systems program plays role in FAA’s selection of drone test site

The Liberty University School of Aeronautics (SOA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program played a role in securing a UAS test site at Virginia Tech Dec. 20, 2013, according to John Marselus, the director of Liberty UAS.

Drone — Jordan Bates (left) and Trevor Briggs (right) at work. Photo provided

Drone — Jordan Bates (left) and Trevor Briggs (right) at work. Photo provided

Marselus said Liberty worked with leaders in private industry as well as academia to prepare the test site selection package to forward to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to Marselus, Liberty contributed safety and operational procedures and assisted in getting information to legislators in regards to proposed Virginian UAS legislation. The program also helped to secure funds from the state legislature.

“We found that with our niche in the flight training we’re providing our students in both manned and unmanned disciplines gave us an important part we could bring to the selection package,” Marselus said.

Along with Liberty UAS’s work with Virginia Tech, a series of partnerships have contributed to the strength of Liberty’s UAS program today, according to Marselus.

Before developing curricula, Marselus said he contacted private industry companies and visited other universities.

According to Marselus, he worked with Dyke Weatherington, who oversees acquisition of all Department of Defense (DOD) unmanned aircraft systems, and Rose Mooney. Mooney served as co-chair of the leading commission SC203 working with the FAA to integrate UAS into the national airspace.

“I visited other schools firsthand, observ(ed) their UAS programs, saw what was within our realm, looked for niches, learned from their lessons and put this program together,” Marselus said.

Liberty’s UAS students have the opportunity to learn in the classroom as well as to put their skills to the test, according to Marselus. UAS student pilots are given extensive ground training, then operate realistic simulators and receive the opportunity to obtain certification in a small UAS called the Dragon Eye.

“The possibilities of where this program will go (are) endless,” Jordan Bates, a senior in the UAS program, said. “I can’t really measure Liberty’s potential in the UAS field … all I can say is, now is the time to get involved.”

Only one and one-half years after holding his first UAS class, Marselus said his graduates are already excelling in the field.

“Our students have done some spectacular things,” Marselus said. “Many of them are in Afghanistan serving under (private) contracts with the DOD with top-secret clearances. They are protecting and providing information to our warriors that is vital to their protection and success. They have even come up with new tactics and procedures by thinking out of the box in many ways … They’re slowly moving up now in the organization, and the organizations are looking for ways to increase their ties with (Liberty) SOA.”

According to Marselus, SOA graduates who received contracts with the DOD are receiving a salary of six digits per year while deployed but are also making sacrifices as military personnel.

“They are not pulling the trigger, but they are an integral part in the operations,” Marselus said. “It wouldn’t have happened without them. They are saving lives of civilians, and they will be saving the lives of our forces.”

According to Marselus, along with DOD contracts, a countless number of UAS jobs will likely be available in the future.

“There will be jobs in this multi-billion dollar industry that we don’t even imagine yet,” Marselus said.

For more information about Liberty UAS, visit

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