Our courses

“The Coastal Drone Academy is a model example of how high schools across America can implement successful career and technical education programs with successful student outcomes, and USI is honored to be a part of their story.”  Aaron Greenwald, President of the Unmanned Safety Institute (USI).


We have four courses that blend aviation, science, and drones: This student (above) is happy to learn a technology that helps him map and understand the ecology of a 1000 acre seagrass bed. He is in our capstone course, Coastal Resource Management Using Drones.

Our training and certification program uses a curriculum accepted by the FAA, endorsed by major aviation insurance providers, and evaluated and recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education. Our program is built on four years of ground and flight school using Unmanned Safety Institute curriculum with its aviation emphasis.

Then through experiential, hands-on learning, and collaboration with local marine scientists, our pilots fly missions where they develop knowledge of the several key aspects of coastal resource management, including using drones to for:

  • Resource management & land (incl. forest) classification
  • Wetland restoration monitoring
  • Monitoring seagrass beds and other estuarine resources

This is the capstone of four classes and it continues to follow a research-based education  that involves students working on longer-term projects directly with industry partners, building on their knowledge of drones and how they apply directly to their coastal habitat missions. Through research-based learning students can develop the intellectual skills of critical analysis and also valuable transferable skills such as group work, time- and resource-management and data handling.

At this point our pilots have an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate (drone license), are working on a USI Pro rating on at least one flight platform, and have a strong logbook reflecting PIC (pilot in command) time on our most advanced sUAS technologies. Many of our students have now mastered our most advanced equipment and software, and realize a commercial drone pilot is required to manage data and software, that the client often needs their data managed (you are never just a pilot).


Advanced coastal drone missions

This course introduces students to Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operations using rotary drones including the DJI Matrice 600 quadcopter and fixed wing drones such as the Sensefly eBeeSQ fixed wing drones (shown here).

Jacob eBee training.png

Our third year pilots have a log book beginning to bulge with commercial flight time. This year they are assigned the task of carrying out missions for our collaborators.

This course introduces students to advanced unmanned aerial systems (UAS) mission planning and operation, as they progress to higher level simulation and mission planning/ execution. Lab/Field: Student teams launch, recover and maintain advanced Unmanned Aerial Systems. Current projects are underway and planned in wetlands restoration monitoring, seagrass bed mapping, whale and salmon observation.

Coastal drone operations

In this course, students continue to explore integration and application of UAS resources in United States airspace.

boys in field

They focus on building and executing drone field operations. The content includes the second half of Part 107 ground school instruction. Each student is issued a ready to fly a quad copter or fixed wing drone which are used to create photo mosaics, topographic, vegetation, and 3D aerial maps while following lesson plans in radio communications, performance, physiological factors, decision making, airport operations, maintenance and pre-flight procedures. In addition students experience flying a fixed wing drone over larger areas (below is a sample plan for a flight for a marsh restoration area in Yaquina Bay).

flight path


Introduction to coastal drones

Students are issued an RTF (ready to fly) drone trainer and learn to fly them using lesson plans in airspace, weather, performance, loading, emergency procedures, and crew resource management.


First year pilot Matt Novy retrieves a Phantom 3 4K after flying a coastal mission (photo by Newport News Times)

This course introduces students to unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and surveys current UAS platforms, sensors, terminology, challenges to integrating UAS to the national airspace system and operations under FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations for small unmanned aircraft (Part 107). Content includes first half of Part 107 ground school instruction. Field trips are planned to an airport, a tower, a flight museum, and a flight service center. All other field hours are dedicated to flying drones and building logged hours.