New Team of Drone Flight Instructors Gears Up at Embry-Riddle

Two men fly a drone
Embry-Riddle has launched a new program to train students to become fully certified uncrewed aircraft systems flight instructors. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Daryl LaBello)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has begun an innovative program to train Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) students to become drone flight instructors.

“The program is a novel approach to drone education and involves a comprehensive curriculum that covers not just hands-on drone flying time and certifications through the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), but it also dives deep into the mechanics and intricacies of drone technology,” said Joe Cabrera, UAS flight instructor and research support specialist at Embry-Riddle. “This will provide students with a unique and innovative learning experience, ensuring they are at the forefront of drone technology and its applications in various industries.”

Quadcopter landing in a field.
So far, the new university program has trained 13 drone flight instructors. (Photo: Embry-Riddle)

Cabrera said the program has so far trained 13 flight instructors, each of whom are now Remote Pilot Instructors and have completed the Trusted Operator Program (TOP). Embry-Riddle is the first academic institution to have received the TOP certification from AUVSI.

As part of their flight training, students also learn how to design, build and flight-test drones, in addition to undertaking coding, 3D printing of aircraft parts, repairing airframes and other related skills.

Hunter Cartwright, one of the student flight instructors who is earning a master’s degree in UAS, pointed out that the program is benefiting the instructors-in-training and the students with whom they work.

“Not only does this benefit student flight instructors after graduating and entering the industry, the curriculum is also applied to students in the UAS program, helping them to develop real-world maneuvering, safety and payload skills,” Cartwright said, adding that he and fellow instructors are currently teaching TOP maneuvers to students at Richard Petty Field on the north end of the Daytona Beach Campus.

Timothy Ehrenkaufer, assistant professor of Aeronautical Science who oversees the UAS flight courses, said the student instructor program provides the kind of hands-on, real-world UAS experience that is typically accessible only to industry professionals.

"Our students graduate not only at the apex of UAS operational expertise but also with the professional acumen to immediately assume leadership roles at top-tier companies," Ehrenkaufer said. "There is truly no other institution that offers such a comprehensive and experientially rich platform for launching a UAS career.”

Student Jeremy Copenhaver is a prime example of how these skills can be leveraged in the industry. Serving as the lead student pilot for the UAS program, as well as a graduate research assistant, he employes many of the same flight skills learned at Embry-Riddle in his startup company, Aerial Flix, which specializes in action sports videos shot with UAS. Recently, he and Cartwright have been doing shoots for the Red Bull supercross team in Florida.

“This has truly been a dream opportunity and allowed us to really put our skills to the test in 'the big leagues,’” Cartwright said.

Dr. John Robbins, professor and chair of the Aeronautical Science Department, said the student flight instructor program supports Embry-Riddle’s goal of innovating alongside the rapidly growing UAS industry.

“The UAS industry is extremely dynamic and evolving at an extraordinary pace,” Robbins said. “Our program, being one of the most highly regarded and successful in the country, decided to adopt a flight-training model that utilizes student instructors to support undergraduate flight training and operations. As early adopters of this model, we are thrilled to see its success.”

Posted In: Aviation