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Motivating Students with an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Airmanship and Research Program

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

MVCC Technical Session

Tagged Division

Military and Veterans Constituent Committee

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Paper Authors


George York U.S. Air Force Academy

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George York, PhD, PE, is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the United States Air Force Academy, CO, and is currently the Director of the Academy Center for UAS Research. He received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington. His research interests include the cooperative control of intelligent systems, digital signal processing, and embedded computer systems. He is a Senior Member IEEE.

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Jeffrey Butler U.S. Air Force Academy

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Colonel Jeffrey T. Butler is the Permanent Professor and Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. He provides leadership for a 24-person academic department teaching 25 academic courses to approximately 2,000 cadets annually. Col Butler also directs an active faculty and cadet research program including the Academy Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Research.

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Timothy Hyer US Air Force

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Lt Col Tim Hyer is the Director of RPA/AOC Operations at the US Air Force Academy and is responsible for oversight of all RPA operations performed at USAFA including cadet flight training in the RQ-11B Raven, flight operations in support of USAFA education and research departments, and UAS technology demonstrations involving outside entities. He has served in a variety of operational assignments as a C-130H, RQ-4A/B and Air Commando pilot. He has been engaged in multiple combat operations in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, and Africa. He is a command pilot with approximately 3,800 hours including 1143 combat and 606 combat support hours.

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Motivating Students with an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Airmanship and Research Program

UAS operations have proven to be a key asset to the warfighter over the past decade and their use is expected to increase in the future. The Air Force needs an ever increasing number of our graduates to serve as RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) operators, and for our graduates in general, to understand how UAS systems support our combat operations. To help our students understand the capabilities and limitations of UAS systems and to help motivate our students toward the RPA career field, we have developed a comprehensive UAS program ranging from training RPA operators to performing research and development for new UAS systems. This paper will highlight both our UAS Airmanship training program and our UAS research program, and assess how this comprehensive approach is preparing our future UAS leaders.

The UAS Airmanship program’s mission is to build future combat Airpower leadership for the USAF leveraging UAS technology to create a realistic integrated air warfare training environment. This environment includes an open-architecture Air Operations Center (AOC) controlling operations of our various UAS platforms. The primary UAS is the RQ-11B Raven. The RQ-11B uses a two-person crew, one Vehicle Operator (VO) and one Mission Operator (MO). The system consists of the Air Vehicle (AV) and the portable Ground Control Station (GCS). The Raven is our basic training platform. Students achieve full, operational-level qualifications in the Raven in a summer program. In a follow-on academic course they can upgrade to Instructor and Evaluator qualifications. The Military Studies department also offers an airpower course using the Raven to teach AOC TTPs, and System’s Engineering offers a UAS Flight Test course.

Our research program has found that UAS serve as an excellent platform for our students across various disciplines to conduct meaningful research supporting the warfighter. Research is performed by students through their capstone design courses and independent study. In addition, our UAS center has full-time researchers who mentor the student research, as well as perform their own programs, providing continuity for our overall UAS research enterprise. UAS Research is self-sustaining, funded by various commercial and DoD customers, such as AFOSR, AFRL, OSD/RRTO, AFSOC, NRL, MITRE, Boeing, and many others. UAS platforms include both custom designed and COTS systems and both fixed-wing and multi-rotor aircraft. UAS Research is performed across several academic departments at the academy, ranging from Aeronautics, Electrical & Computer, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, Meteorology, Behavioral Science, Law, Biology, and Military Studies. The paper will highlight examples of some of the leading edge UAS research our students are participating in, creating advancements for the warfighter and learning the capabilities and limitations of UAS along the way.

York, G., & Butler, J., & Hyer, T. (2016, June), Motivating Students with an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Airmanship and Research Program Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25756

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