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These collaborations are crucial for student success, according to Campbell. He would know—as a former Navy officer and pilot with an FAA commercial certificate who also has military experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, he is no stranger to the field. “We’re preparing our students according to what the industry wants to hire and the standards that the industry is looking for, so they’ll have no problem getting out and finding a job,” Campbell said. Ferrara also views this commitment to student success as a departmental responsibility. “It’s incumbent on a department like ours to have our students educated in those areas, so they’re available when the market does present itself.”


As for the commercial applications of UAS, the sky’s the limit. However, the industry in which UAS has made the greatest headway so far is firmly planted on the ground—agriculture. Unmanned aircraft allow large-scale farmers to monitor their crops remotely. This sort of “precision agriculture” is the specialty of Farmspace Systems LLC, a West Tennessee company with whom MTSU does collaborative research. Like other experts in the industry, Derick Seaton, now vice president of aviation operations for Farmspace, has been an advisor to the department since the inception of the UAS program. This kind of involvement, Campbell said, will give MTSU graduates an advantage since the degree program was developed with real-time input. And because of these relationships, even students taking introductory UAS courses have already gained field experience working with Farmspace and other partners. Seaton, a retired Air Force officer, said that during the six years he’s worked with MTSU, he’s witnessed a boom in civilian applications of what had been a strictly military technology. He said the key to tapping into that boom is recognizing that UAS are just means of collecting data—“flying circuit boards,” as Campbell calls them. “From the industry standpoint, it’s about the sensor and the information that you gain from that sensor,” Seaton said. Whether the sensor is a GoPro shooting video or an infrared device seeking heat signatures, “the unmanned aircraft is simply a platform for being able to gather that information.”

Patton Webb