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TMCC launching UAV certificate program

Drone America

A former military contractor who spent the past three years flying drones in Iraq and Afghanistan is building a brand new curriculum at Truckee Meadows Community College. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that starting next semester, Mark Sharp will be training students how to operate and repair unmanned aerial vehicles.

Students who complete TMCC's one-year certificate program for Unmanned Aerial Systems Technicians will study UAV history and ethics, along with robotics and information technology. They'll also get their hands on some of the technology being developed right now by the company Drone America, based in Reno.

"We're looking at maybe getting some of what they call the composite molds that they've been using," says TMCC Instructor Mark Sharp, "so the students will be able to actually manufacture or repair a component that's used on a Drone America aircraft. It's not just the fixing; there's also the electronics portion. The students will need to learn how computers talk."

Sharp's course was supposed to start next fall, but TMCC is forging ahead with it this spring semester because of Nevada's designation as a UAV test site by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even though the program is quite specialized, Sharps says the technology is versatile, so he's hoping his students will find job opportunities in a wide range of industries, everything from emergency management to agriculture to mining.

"Any application where you need an eyeball or a sensor in the sky, that's where unmanned aerial vehicles come in," he explains. "They can inspect power lines, geothermal plants, wind turbines--areas that are very dangerous or it's a real hassle to inspect."

Sharp is also working on creating an associate degree program in UAV flight operations at TMCC.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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