Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard paid a visit to Enterprise State Community College, Jan. 28, to listen to details on an unmanned aerial systems program, which is currently being developed by ESCC’s Alabama Aviation Center.
When completed, ESCC will be one of only three colleges in the nation to offer this type of program, which would give students the skills necessary to build and program unmanned air vehicles.
State Rep. Barry Moore, State Sen. Jimmy Holley, Coffee County Commissioner Jimmy Jones and Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell joined Hubbard for a tour of the ESCC facilities and brief presentation on the benefits the state, county and city could see if the program were implemented.
Hubbard said the state’s role in getting the program off the ground has yet to be determined as the program is still in its development phase.
“We’ve had our hands full trying to deal with the general fund budget, but we’re getting to the point where we’re trying to make some systemic changes to education,” Hubbard said. “The state can’t do it alone, but we can certainly partner with schools. We’re looking at some changes to happen in the two-year system in the future, which could allow colleges some resources where they are needed.”
According to a representative of ESCC, there are more than 200 simulator maintenance and support personnel employed at Fort Rucker.
However, that number is expected to increase as trends in aviation adapt to developing technologies.
There is a 10-1 cost savings achieved by using simulations as opposed to live training, whether the training consists of assembling aircraft components or performing actual flight missions.
The unmanned program will incorporate curriculum which teaches students how to use these simulations, and ESCC is as hoping to make the courses available online accessible.
“We believe we can make Alabama a place businesses want to come to, because of this technology,” ESCC President Nancy Chandler said. “So much of this program is computer based, so we could teach it anywhere.”
Despite that, Chandler said there isn’t adequate space to implement the program at ESCC’s main campus in Enterprise.
The college is currently looking into developing an existing structure into an additional facility.
The 44,000 square-foot facility, located at 128 South Industrial Boulevard, housing Enterprise Electronics Corporation, is being considered.
Chandler named no specifics as to the cost of renovating the facility, but did say it would be less than half of the cost of building a new structure from the ground up.
ESCC has already established a simulation and modeling technician course with the help of Navigator Development Group Inc. and its co-founder, Albert Patterson.
That program is one of only two in the state of Alabama.
“The tools associated with education and training have started to change,” Patterson said. “These new technologies allow us to integrate audio, video and interactive models into training materials that are available to our students. It also applies to what students (will be learning) in the unmanned air systems maintenance training program at ESCC.”
The Navigator Development Group will be assisting ESCC by helping develop the new technology-based curriculum for the unmanned aerial systems program.
“An air vehicle is an air vehicle,” Patterson said. “We teach people how to build those in Ozark now. We’ll be working with the college to identify what pieces need to be added to the existing programs to prepare students for building and programming unmanned aircrafts.”
David Brown, who builds interactive 3D models for Navigator, gave a demonstration of how the models work.
Brown showed a basic alternator using a computer and projector, and then completely disassembled it using only his mouse.
“This program can show you every component, every screw and how each piece comes apart,” Brown said. “The amount of info we’re able to put on the screen far exceeds what you would be able to accomplish through words. This is a groundbreaking piece of educational material and the learning value is very high.”
Brown said the program also allows students to use 3D glasses, for a more tactile experience.
Patterson said this allows students to train on the actual engines and helicopter components they would be working with in the field, which would be far to expensive for a school to purchase.
The program also prevents wear and tear, which occurs when students assemble and disassemble engine components several times.
“This is really to get ahead of the curb,” Boswell said. “Teaching as we know it is becoming antiquated and brick and mortar is not always the answer. We have an opportunity to take advantage of this technology and use it.”
Boswell said as budgets shrink it makes sense to partner with the state and county in ventures such as this.
“We want to become more effective and also make sure we are turning out students that are ready for tomorrow’s work force,” he said.
Hubbard said it’s important to involve the industry in the aviation education process.
“From a business standpoint, the student is the product we’re producing,” he said. “We obviously need to talk to the customer to find out what they need, and that’s business and industries.”
Hubbard said with Airbus building its first North American plant in Alabama, the state has great opportunities ahead of it.
“We want to be prepared to provide the workforce we’ll need to compete,” Hubbard said. “We’re not operating in a vacuum, we have other states going after the same jobs.”
Tuscon Roberts, Dean of Aviation and Workforce Development at AAC, said the unmanned programs should be beginning at AAC campuses by the spring of 2014.
“There is a huge simulation center on Fort Rucker and we’re trying to create maintenance and support students who can handle those jobs,” Roberts said. “We’re departing from some of the traditional aviation thinking and getting into some new concepts that are being driven by the industry. We’re a special school and we want to stay special.”