Embry-Riddle offers master's degree in drones

Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 10:45 AM.

"It's taking off like a rocket," Macchiarella said. "We had students go through the program as fast as they could to get out there."

Already, through its ROTC program, Embry-Riddle graduates more pilot cadets than any other institution outside the military academies. Of its 5,000 students, about a quarter are involved with the ROTC program. Most have financial aid to offset the $30,000 annual tuition.

The nature of this fly-by-computer-screen technology attracts the young gamer-type, Macchiarella said — much different from the soldiers of his generation, when he retired as an Army lieutenant colonel.

But he saw the change coming as he worked in the battle labs where the military flew some of the first advanced unmanned aircrafts, the so-called Hunter UAV spy planes with 29-foot wingspans.

"My generation grew up with Vietnam on TV," said Macchiarella, who flew Apache helicopters. "But this spins off from gaming. Just look at it. It looks like gaming."

In an economy hungry for jobs, students are going where the work is. And right now, drones are hot.

"I didn't get into flying airplanes to do this, but I fell into it because it was lucrative," said John Bounds, a 2006 Embry-Riddle graduate who manages the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flight lab and serves as a flight instructor. "The salary this offered was competitive with what I could make as a pilot with 15 years experience."

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