You know that the drone training program at Warren Community College must be doing something right when it gets rare approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for various waiver-only permitted flights. Most recently to train students in mission scenarios where they can conduct UAS flights beyond visual line of sight for their pilots to support sectors such as agriculture and energy or help keep the public safe.

Warren Community College has one of only 110 such waivers ever granted. Warren was one of the first 100 to get an FAA waiver to fly drones over people, securing its permanent position as one of the pioneers in the industry.

Clearly the college is making a difference, as acknowledged this year by the Association of Uncrewed Systems International, a nationally prestigious organization that presented Warren with an award for its overall efforts. 

For the most recent FAA approval, staff, students, and Censys Technologies worked together for months on the waiver application. Up until now, student pilots were limited to only flying their aircraft within visual line of sight (VLOS). In the application they explained how carefully the drones would be used and pointed out that with new equipment capability the college would be able to train pilots in the safe operation of drones outside the line of sight and in maintenance of the sophisticated equipment. 

The Censys Sentero BVLOS aircraft in vertical climb just prior to forward-flight transition.

With the waiver, drones can cover a far greater distance and collect vastly more data in sectors such as agriculture, construction, mapping, public safety, and utility support. It also makes UAS operations much less expensive and can even replace the much costlier use of helicopters, planes, or satellites. In addition, it allows for their use more extensively in public safety situations – with a lost person or detection of, or search for, an active shooter or other criminal suspect.

“It is a different type of training, and the skills are valuable for our students to gain,” said Dr. Will Austin, President of Warren, and the college's Chief Pilot. He noted the students would now get a more sophisticated understanding of navigation of unmanned flights, meteorology, flight performance and planning, air traffic monitoring, and realizing Part 107 flight rules. 

“This is a really big deal in this growing industry, and we are among the first colleges to have the green light to train students this way,” said Dr. Austin. “Having the beyond visual line of sight clearance is something the FAA is just beginning to award to even the leading private companies in the field. It’s a real honor for Warren Community College."

Flights are conducted from inside the Mobile Command Center which allows pilots to monitor mission progression, nearby air traffic, weather, and all of the aircraft’s on-board systems.

“With this waiver, we are giving our students an understanding of the latest and most sophisticated ways drones can be used, along with hands-on experience with this state-of-the-art equipment," continued Dr. Austin. "It makes them excellent candidates for the many jobs in this fast-growing industry. “The FAA approval likely puts us five-to-seven years ahead of many other colleges and for-profit companies in terms of training. And it’s not just about us. This will be an asset for the entire Warren County community, as well as our outlying communities." 

Through the drone program, Warren has forged a relationship with Embry-Riddle University in Florida, the leading aeronautical college in the country, to create a transfer pathway for Warren students, and allow for the exchange of research and expertise between campuses, including unique partnering projects like the one in which the two entities are researching pythons in the Florida Everglades, and writing Federal grants to advance the industry for all. Additionally, the college and Warren County Technical School have shared in a state grant for robotics and drones, ensuring a workforce pipeline for those employers seeking the best trained professionals.

The Warren faculty includes caring, highly educated, experienced, and knowledgeable educators that include, FAA identified responsible persons for flights over people, BVLOS RPICs, Teledyne-FLIR ITC certified thermographers, the 2022 AUVSI “Member of the Year,” multiple mastered degreed experts, AUVSI Level 3 remote pilot instructors, and experts in air traffic control, among others. In addition to being a fully licensed public college, Warren enjoys an ASTM certified program, recognition as an AUVSI TOP certified training provider, as well as being fully accredited by the Middle States Commission for Higher Education. At Warren, students can earn an applied Associate’s Degree in Unmanned Systems, Certificate in drone piloting, or a Certificate in UAS maintenance and repair. As a publicly supported and accredited college, learners will be hard pressed to find a more cost-effective education or training provider in the industry, or a faculty and organization with as many recognized professional certifications.