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New Program Trains Students to Become Professional Drone Operators

This article appeared in the Aug. 14, 2018, issue of the student newsletter.

Starting in September, the first cohort of apprentices will begin training in the first-ever Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship program for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — that is, drones. This is thanks to a new partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor, DCCCD partner company RMS Aerospace and the Texas Workforce Commission, who all participated in a signing ceremony at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in early July.

In just 6-8 months, apprentices in this program can earn four different certificates through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):

  • FAA Remote Pilot Certification
  • FAA Advanced Ground Instructor Certification
  • FAA Instrument Ground Instructor Certification
  • FCC Radio Telephone Operator License

“They also come out of the program as Department of Defense Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators. It's not a certificate, but it is an additional recognition through the Department of Defense,” said RMS Aerospace CEO Russell Julian. “Tier 2 and Tier 3 refers to the drones most people see on TV, meaning a predator — or reaper-sized aircraft … basically what most people think of as a military-style drone.”

But the program isn't just designed to train UAS operators for the military — these operators will also become qualified for commercial drone pilot jobs. “Military is just one avenue. We want to develop these folks to be able to work commercially as well, in a variety of sectors,” Julian said. Areas in which graduates can potentially work include:

  • Precision agriculture
  • Construction
  • Mapping and surveys
  • Cinematography
  • Aerial journalism
  • Department of Defense operations
  • Intelligence surveillance
  • Reconnaissance

“The first two months of the program are what we call ‘ground school’ or lecture,” said Julian. “Through this, students learn airmanship fundamentals, and the apprenticeship concludes with extensive, specialized work experience in these eight different sectors where drones are used.”

“The goal for apprentices coming out of the program is not just to be able to operate a drone but also to plan missions and do what we call full-spectrum operations," continued Julian. “So flying the drone, yes, but also data collection as well as processing the data and getting that information to the end user.”

Through RMS Aerospace, apprentices can expect to take part in one of the most comprehensive commercial UAS training programs in the country. And as drone technology takes off to even greater heights, Julian hopes to keep up with this emerging industry by developing a high bar and a core set of professional standards for workers in these professions — regardless of which part of the industry they wind up in.

For more information about this program, contact Russell Julian, CEO at RMS Aerospace, at or call 214-860-5923.