The University of Guam Drone Corps program has produced its first 12 Federal Aviation Administration–certified drone pilots with more to come. The 12 students passed the FAA exam this semester and are now earning flight hours through internships, simulator trainings, and missions assisting local researchers and agencies.
Launched in April 2021, the Drone Corps is a combined effort from NASA Guam Space Grant and NASA Guam EPSCoR programs at the University of Guam to meet the demand for the island’s rising drone industry by creating a cadre of FAA-certified pilots.
Upon acceptance into and completion of a three-week preparatory knowledge course, students scheduled their FAA Part 107b certification exam, which grants successful members a two-year Remote Pilot license necessary to safely fly drones through Guam’s skies.
As a U.S. territory, Guam falls under federal regulations for both recreational and commercial drone activity. A primary goal of the UOG Drone Corps program is to train students to be knowledgeable of these regulations and to preemptively avoid drone accidents and minimize potential conflicts through responsible use.
Throughout the program’s sessions and training workshops, students learned about drone components and proper storage, drone operations and mechanics, various flight conditions, appropriate times and locations for flight, types of flight zones, remote-to-drone signals, and more.
Building experience through flight time
Now with their licenses, the students are expected to fulfill 40 hours of flight time through simulator training, internships, and missions providing aid to UOG researchers, local government agencies, or nonprofit organizations.
Thor Hauerbach, a sophomore studying business administration, is interning at Tech Center Guam and is also part of a team that is developing curriculum to facilitate remote pilot training for the Guam Fire Department.
“In the past months, I have spent numerous hours on the DJI Enterprise simulator, both doing skill training exercises and free flight, and have also had the privilege to fly real drones in the field,” Hauerbach said.
Hauerbach has also obtained other certifications related to drone flight through his internship.
The hands-on experience will equip the students when entering the workforce with the ability to incorporate drone technology in various sectors of the economy, including construction, environmental mapping, infrastructure inspection, and emergency services.
Promoting local businesses was one of the reasons Drone Corps member and computer science major Christopher Salas wanted to be a certified drone pilot. Throughout his work experience in real estate, Salas realized the potential in drone usage for marketing, surveying, and mapping materials.
“The most fulfilling aspect [of the program] was to educate myself of the actual intricacies of being a drone pilot,” Salas said. “In the beginning, my mindset was, ‘How hard is it to actually fly a drone? Why does anyone need a pilot license?’ When I learned more and more, I realized just how technical, precision-based, and detail-oriented it was to fly drones.”
The UOG Drone Corps program’s inaugural term is ongoing, with the next set of members slated to take their FAA exam early next year.
About UOG Drone Corps
The University of Guam Drone Corps is the institution’s first drone certification and training program for undergraduate and graduate students, staff, and faculty. The program aims to build technical capacity by creating a cadre of FAA-licensed, informed, and responsible pilots through knowledge courses, training workshops, and hands-on flying opportunities.
Collaboratively administered by the NASA Guam EPSCoR and NASA Guam Space Grant programs at the University of Guam, the UOG Drone Corps is focused on increasing education and awareness of drone technology through responsible use.