Continued from page 1

“That’s the intent. We have a long track record of working with the FAA. We worked closely with them in developing the [drone] program and talked with them about the needed knowledge base,” said William H. Semke, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who partners with the school’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research.

“What training will [pilots] need? That’s going to change as time progresses. But right now, we’re right in the middle of that,” he said.

Dozens of other institutions are staking their claim in the drone game. The University of Texas at Austin did so in a high-profile way earlier this summer, when professor Todd Humphreys and his students successfully hijacked a drone to demonstrate holes in current safety protocols.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Matt Waite took a different approach and founded the first-ever “drone journalism lab” to explore the opportunities — and inevitable ethical conflicts — of using unmanned crafts in the news-gathering business.

Such programs, analysts say, will grow in number dramatically over the next several years, as drones come to the forefront.

Educators such as Col. LeMieux plan to take full advantage, offering students the chance to be a part of a technological revolution.

“We’re looking to the future,” he said. “We are trying to develop the future leaders of this industry. When you graduate from this school, you will have a job. If you’re a fighter pilot, the war is winding down, so what are you going to do? You can go to a school, get 50 hours of flight training, and now you have a degree in unmanned aerial vehicle operations.”