by Katherine Dorsett Bennett, CNN
(CNN) Complaints by some parents to their school-aged children that video games "aren't good for you" may not necessarily be true.
Apparently, a "PlayStation" mentality can pay off for students interested in aviation and could lead to a future career in that industry.
The strong hand-eye coordination skills and familiarity with a visual readout (from playing video games) can particularly create an advantage for aviation students interested in the field of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), said Dr. Steve Johnson, President of Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. "I think there are a lot of things that go into being successful as a student in any program and this is no different," he said.
UAS is an aircraft (also commonly known as a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle) that doesn't carry a crew and is remotely piloted. There are a wide variety of these flying machines. A major benefit of this aircraft is that in theory it can perform many dangerous tasks as a manned aircraft without risking the lives of a pilot and crew. Most UAS programs have been historically designed for the military, but commercial industries are now developing new types of UAS applications and need to hire people trained in this field, according to Adam Murka, the director of public information at Sinclair.
Twenty-three-year-old Trace Curry, a student at Sinclair, is enrolled in the UAS program and credits his passion for aviation and his video game playing background for part of his success in the school's coursework. He's among a handful of students at Sinclair seeking a short-term certificate in this field. "The classroom simulator came naturally to me after playing so many video games," he said. Curry is armed with a strong computer background, too.
Curry said he pursued the UAS program, in addition to his other aviation coursework, because he wants the skills to position himself for an entry-level technical position in the UAS industry. "I'm excited to be a part of a cutting edge program and learning skills in an industry where the sky is literally the limit," he said.
The program at Sinclair features mission planning, data management and other fields of UAS study. Curry is also interested in becoming a pilot one day.
Other colleges, including Northwestern Michigan College, University of North Dakota and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are among schools in the U.S. offering courses in Unmanned Aircraft Systems, too.
"We see a strong job market in the future for these UAS graduates," said Dr. Johnson.
According to a press release from Sinclair, the overall UAS industry expects to grow by $31 billion over the next ten years, including $2 billion in commercial growth. Dr. Johnson said he's seen projections for salaries ranging from $30,000 a year to well over $100,000 depending on the job and the skill set of the employee.
"Our company has aggressively invested in the UAS market and strongly believes in the potential benefit that unmanned vehicles can bring to defense, commercial and first responder activities," noted Dennis Andersh, senior vice president and Dayton regional executive at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).
While it’s easy to focus on the most visible component of these systems – the airborne platforms – the actual systems encompass everything from the sensors collecting information to the wireless datalinks down linking the information, to the software, systems and people analyzing and distributing the information, noted Andersh. Job skills in these various specialties will serve any UAS student well.
The potential commercial uses for Unmanned Aircraft Systems include obtaining imagery to farmers in the agricultural field, patrolling remote power lines and pipelines, wildlife and environmental research and even the possibility of flying human organs from one place to another. The military has been invested in UAS technology for years in a variety of capacities.
"I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is a developing industry and will need a bit more time for the market to be fully fleshed out," noted Dr. Johnson. "This industry is going to go places we’ve not yet imagined."
Sinclair said one of the biggest uncertainties in non-military UAS usage concerns the use of airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs the skies and strictly regulates the type of aircraft that can fly in public areas.
According to CNN affiliate KSDK, this sticking point became a major issue in Hawaii recently, after officials there discovered the FAA wouldn't let them fly a UAS the state purchased for patrolling theHonoluluHarbor. State officials never checked with the FAA to learn that space was restricted and closed to UAS aircraft.
The FAA is currently formulating new regulations to open up more airspace for UAS-class aircraft – and once the new regulations are set – it will change the dynamics of this evolving industry.
"I definitely feel like I'm getting into this fast-changing industry at the right time," said Curry. "I'm really excited about my future."