October 5, 2020 : By Garold Smith - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected the Liberty University School of Aeronautics Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program for its Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI), becoming one of only 26 schools nationwide to participate.
“The FAA selected Liberty University because they recognize the effectiveness of our program in preparing students for careers in the unmanned aircraft systems industry,” said Dr. Rick Roof, dean of the School of Aeronautics. UAS is commonly referred to as drones. “Through this selection, the FAA is certifying to students, graduates, and employers that Liberty University has one of the premier UAS programs in the country. The combination of rigorous technical preparation and intentional character development of our Champions makes Liberty graduates exceptional candidates as they enter the workforce.”
Jonathan Washburn, Liberty’s UAS program director, said the FAA wanted to identify schools that train students under strict industry standards, so they announced that they would expand the CTI program from its current Air Traffic Control focus to also include UAS, asking schools to submit applications during the spring of 2020. Liberty was recently notified of its acceptance into the program.
To qualify, schools must offer a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in UAS or a degree with a minor, concentration, or certificate in UAS. Schools must provide curriculum covering various aspects of UAS training, including hands-on flight practice, maintenance, uses, applications, privacy concerns, safety, and federal policies concerning UAS.
The School of Aeronautics currently offers a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics – Unmanned Aerial Systems, a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance – Unmanned Aerial Systems, and a Medium Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Certificate.
“We are very excited to be accepted by the FAA into this amazing group of schools,” Washburn said. “Our UAS program strives to equip, mentor, and send Champions for Christ into the aerospace industry. This validation of our program by the FAA speaks to the growth and maturity we have seen over the past few years. We look forward to working with the FAA, and the other schools involved, to continue to produce the highest quality graduates for the UAS industry.”
Liberty’s UAS program began in 2013 and Washburn, who spent nearly five years flying UAS around the world in both hostile and friendly areas as a civilian contractor for the government, joined the program in 2015. Since that time, he has focused on building the program’s curriculum, training, and industry partnerships.
The program trains students to operate a variety of aircraft, from the smaller quadcopter early in their degree program to the medium UAS during their senior year. Washburn said students have the opportunity to become student-instructors and, once they become approved UAS operators, they can support campus activities like flying drones for marketing photo shoots and to provide security at football games.
During the students’ senior year, they can participate in medium UAS training through an ongoing partnership with Textron Systems, which trains students how to fly the aircraft, operate the payloads, and conduct missions using a large aircraft that flies beyond line-of-sight. Students learn at the Textron facility in Blackstone, Va., where the restricted airspace allows them to fly larger aircraft.
“We are one of the only schools in the country that can guarantee students’ flight time on a system that is not allowed to fly in the national airspace,” Washburn said, “and this partnership helps our students build a resume of real-world flight experience.”
When students graduate with their bachelor’s degree, they will also have their FAA remote pilot certificate. The program also offers students the opportunity to earn a Private Pilot certificate and an Instrument Flight rating, giving them manned aircraft experience, which increases opportunities for careers in the UAS field.
“By providing such comprehensive UAS training, our goal is to prepare our graduates to be competitive and to be equipped to join the UAS industry in a career field.” Washburn said.
The success of Liberty’s UAS program is shown not only through industry recognition, such as the FAA UAS-CTI list, but also through the success of students and graduates.
“Just this year we’ve seen a massive increase in the diversity of job types and locations,” said Washburn. “Duke Energy in North Carolina hired three of our students and one of the supervisors in that program is a UAS alumnus, and we also have graduates working at UPS using UAS to do medical deliveries at medical campuses around the country. We have companies around the country who are very hungry for our students.”
“After years of preparation and hard work, our UAS program is at a pivotal point where we have the opportunity and facilities to double in size,” he added. “We are excited to bring more students into the program to experience the other amazing offerings at Liberty’s School of Aeronautics.”
The Liberty University School of Aeronautics is currently the largest faith-based university aviation program in the country. The school offers a variety of online and residential programs, including a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), military aviation, missionary aviation, commercial/corporate aviation, and aviation administration, as well as an aviation maintenance technician program (AMTP). The new online Master of Science in Aeronautics offers specializations in leadership, safety, education, and general aeronautics.