A new cohort of drone pilot students start in the 2024 CIDER Drone Pilot Training Program

The CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research (CIDER) welcomed its 2024 Drone Pilot Training Program cohort in an orientation session on January 8. The 16-week extracurricular training program takes place in the Winter and Spring quarters. Unlike previous years, the program has two tracks this year: general and agriculture. Altogether, the cohort has 40 students, of whom 17 focus on agriculture-related drone use and 23 on the broad use of drones. The program is for UC Santa Cruz undergraduate students, regardless of their major. This year, there is also one auditing graduate student participating.

The first eight weeks of the program focus on training the students to obtain FAA commercial drone pilot licenses. To gain the license, students will study a broad range of aviation topics and regulations and complete a written exam at an FAA facility, the closest one being the Watsonville Airport. After the Winter quarter, among other topics, the students will master the federal drone regulations, be able to read aeronautical charts, understand the limitations of different types of airspace for drone operations, and, most importantly, how to operate drones safely and responsibly. Besides the content required to learn for the FAA exam, the program focuses on three essential aspects of drone use: safety, privacy, and security. The students will also get their first flight experience during the Winter quarter.

The Spring quarter is project-based, and each student works in a small group to complete a drone operation project. These projects include inspecting solar panels, identifying the health of crops, assessing crop damage after storms or droughts, inspecting greenhouses, and more. In order to complete the projects, students learn to use data processing and analysis software commonly used in the drone industry.

UC Santa Cruz CIDER was founded in 2021, and the first Drone Pilot Training Program cohort started in 2022. The program has changed its form slightly every year as the CIDER team has modified it to be more engaging and hands-on. The core idea of CIDER and the Drone Pilot Training Program is to increase and support DEI in the drone industry, along with training responsible drone pilots who are aware of safety, privacy, and security when flying drones.

In addition to running the Drone Pilot Training Program, CIDER works with other educational organizations in the community, including Hartnell College and Digital Nest, to train their instructors and support their drone program curriculum development. CIDER contracts with federal, state, and local agencies and industry, such as the California State Parks, completing drone surveys for their needs. CIDER also works with the industry and community to develop the workforce based on current and near-future demand. Please visit the CIDER website to learn more about our work in drone education and research.