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Posted on Oct 2, 2015

New BBCC drone program to focus on ag applications

MOSES LAKE — When it comes to drones, the community college here wants to teach you to fix ’em and fly ’em.
A new $2.6 million program to train drone technicians and pilots will launch in fall of 2016 as part of Big Bend Community College expanding aviation curriculum, the college announced last week.
The new program, titled “New Opportunities in Aviation,” will focus on agricultural applications of drone technology, such as measuring crop acreage, checking irrigation and analyzing effectiveness of fertilizers or pesticides.
“The opportunity to use a new UAS education program and our 50-year aviation tradition to serve one of the most diverse and productive agricultural areas in the world is exciting,” said Terry Leas, BBCC president.
“It will have a ripple effect,” he added. “The UAS program will create connections among many of our existing educational programs.”
“UAS” refers to unmanned aerial system, the technical name for what’s commonly known as a drone.
The new program’s three components will include “mechatronics,” the mechanics and electronics of drones; piloting of UAS devices; and “pathway advising,” or the counseling of students on the benefits and requirements for enrollment in the drone curriculum.
“The pathway advising component is crucial because students will be unfamiliar with the requirements for earning an associate degree in mechatronics or UAS operations,” said Leas. “Big Bend will have the first UAS program in the state’s community and technical college system.”
Each initiative will have a full-time director. An estimated 10 faculty positions will be trained in the new curricula and course delivery, according to a press release from the college.
Leas said students in several of the college’s programs will likely be interested in the new drone classes, including those in computer science, commercial piloting, aviation maintenance, along with science, technology, engineering and agricultural offerings.
The federal grant will provide around $520,000 a year for five years, according to Leas.
The first year of the grant is dedicated to hiring staff, developing curriculum, renovating 5,560-square feet of an existing college hangar for lab space, developing an advising system and training advisors.
The equipment list includes fixed-wing and helicopter drones, as well as mapping software. Flight simulation software will also be purchased so students can practice the essentials of flight in a controlled environment.
The $2.6 million federal grant was received from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), which provides funds to help local Hispanic students complete college degrees. BBCC has been designated as an HSI school because of the demographics and income levels of the surrounding population.
All students in BBCC’s service district benefit from the HSI funding.


— By Mike Irwin, Wenatchee World