Whether it's for crop scouting, capturing thermal imagery or diagnosing crop-related issues, agriculture is interested in unmanned aerial systems.
As of Aug. 29, a UAS can be flown for commercial purposes if following the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 rules and obtaining a remote pilot certification.
"We're just beginning to learn about what we can do with this technology and how it can play a role as a new ag implement," says Wayne Woldt, associate professor of biological systems engineering and the school of natural resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
So, UNL Extension is offering an online home-study course for participants to learn to navigate through the Part 107 rules and obtain their pilot's certification by passing the FAA exam. The course, which will kick off the first enrollment in early May, is open to UNL students, growers or anyone interested in getting their remote pilot's certification. The online course will take about one month. After completion of the course, participants can take the pilot's exam separately at a FAA-approved location. Approved locations in Nebraska will be presented in the course materials.
Participants can sign up at nuaire.unl.edu. UNL will then send out registration information. Participants will buy their own course material, including web-based resources and a study guide.
Although the course is self-guided, Extension educators and specialists will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer support throughout the monthlong course.
"Extension's role will be similar to a coach. We'll answer questions and provide guidance when help is needed," says Woldt. "We envision the course content system as providing a mechanism for participants to communicate among themselves. If someone has a question, on Class E airspace down to surface, for example, we may have participants that jump in and offer their thoughts and opinions. It's a co-learning environment where all the participants are learning as we go forward."
Woldt hopes to offer the courses in three additional stages. The next course will be on instructional flight. "This would be a more hands-on, two-day program, helping participants learn how to fly and program missions for autonomous flight operations. People would need their Part 107 remote pilot certificate to participate because now they're flying aircraft. And the first step is obtaining the Part 107 certificate," Woldt says. "Then we're going to look at sensors and sensor integration. Now that you've got your certificate and know how to fly a drone, we're going to look at the different types of sensors you can use. How do you mount and connect them onto the aircraft? Finally, we'll look at the data, how to process the data, and explore what the data is telling us."
The higher-level courses are expected to be offered later this summer, Woldt says. "We want to see how this first one goes, and we start building that capacity in people that can fly with a certificate. Then we start talking about the actual flight," he says, adding that the No. 1 priority is obtaining Part 107 remote pilot certification. "In recent surveys, we asked growers, crop consultants and researchers, 'What would you be interested in learning about a UAS?' And getting the remote pilot certificate was the No. 1 response."