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Sinclair soaring to new heights with UAS

Sinclair Community College is in the midst of a $5 million capital project to expand its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) education and testing, and in the process is helping Greater Dayton make a name for itself in the drone industry.

The expansion project includes new labs, wind tunnels, and one of the largest indoor flying spaces in the United States. The flying space doubles as a field house. On the day UAS Coordinator Ryan Palm and UAS faculty Benjamin Sears demonstrated the Iris+, people were playing tennis on the other side of the building.

Unmanned aerial systems vary in size. Sinclair has 65 aircraft ranging from a 4-ounce practice copter to a fixed wing with an 8-foot wing span. Star student Alex Pollock has always been fascinated by technology. He likes drone applications for farming, mapping and emergency response.

He says,“There’s always a lot of people who are afraid of everybody just flying these out there and invading people’s privacy. I respect that. But if you look at it from a commercial aspect, companies aren’t really looking to do that. They are looking to see-how can we make this a viable commercial enterprise?"

Sinclair began developing its UAS program in 2008 out of a need. Deb Norris is the community college’s Vice President of Workforce Development, and oversees the drone program. She says, "Our region was going through a lot of changes. We were having General Motors to pull out, DHL to pull out. We were losing NCR.”

And the community college had to find a field of study that would help propel the area economically.  In 2014, 157 new enrollees declared UAS as their major. According to Norris, “This is an industry that is just going to explode as we look at the different applications and so Sinclair is building a national center of excellence, if you will, for UAS. We see lots and lots of growth and practical applications as commercialization becomes a reality.”

Sinclair is taking a regional approach to making unmanned aerial systems a part of the Dayton economy. The Community College's Dr. Andrew Shepherd, UAS Program Director, says in addition to flying at the Wilmington Air Park, "We've done a lot of operations at Springfield Air Park and we're collaborating now with The Ohio State University and Miami University."  Private companies Altavian and Woolpert are also involved.

Sinclair says it flew the most UAS flights, of any organization, in Ohio last year. One project, scheduled for last week, was for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to take pictures of fracking.

What’s still up in the air are the permanent regulations the FAA is developing. They are expected to be out by the end of the year.

Sinclair will hold its first UAS Academic Summit August 24.