Big Bend Community College will launch an “unmanned aerial vehicle” program this fall, and received a grant to help pay for equipment.
Unmanned aerial vehicles also are called drones.
The five-year, $2.2 million federal grant will allow the college to buy fixed-wing aircraft and one additional rotorcraft, said program director Pat Ford. The college will receive $550,000 per year.
Ford updated the BBCC board of trustees during their last meeting.
College officials are converting an old, unused tennis court to serve as a flight range, with the space surrounded by a fence and covered with netting. Construction is expected to begin about Aug. 22, pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ford said the UAV business is growing, especially as automation continues to change other businesses. He cited farming as an example, and the possibility of driverless combines and other farm machinery. A farmer could use drone technology to survey fields, Ford said, and in turn use the information to program equipment.
Surveying is only one of many applications for the UAV technology, he said. “The business is there.” In addition, unmanned aerial vehicle technology is advancing, and drone capabilities are increasing. The capabilities are “incredible,” he said.