The Academy is…..

a team of seven instructors and 18 student aviators working in small teams to complete 150 hours of ground school and 50 hours of flight school while earning FAA licenses and drone pro certificates (USI) using 13 unmanned aircraft to carry out missions where we are mapping hundreds of acres of seagrass, monitoring wetlands mitigation sites, riparian zone characterization, mapping a coastal city, and helping census migrating gray whales and chinook salmon.

“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).

Flight training (at sea) continues for senior pilots, shown above is the OSU R/V Pacific Storm on station five miles off Newport, deploying a drone for flight training for Coastal Drone Academy pilots in April 2018.

My training and certification program uses a curriculum accepted by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), endorsed by major aviation insurance providers, and evaluated and recommended for college credit by the American Council on Education. The program is built on a comprehensive ground and flight school using Unmanned Safety Institute curriculum with its aviation emphasis.


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

  • Coastal resource management & land (including forest) classification
  • Wetland restoration monitoring
  • Monitoring seagrass beds and other estuarine resources
  • Census of whales and salmon

I use a research-based education that involves students working on longer-term projects directly with industry and government collaborators, 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.

Elevation (topographic map of wetlands restoration site

Actual work done by our teams includes a wetlands delineation map and the video of the marsh appears below.

At this point my top 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 my students have now mastered our most advanced equipment and software, and are helping to scope out advances in our technology for future team missions .



Advanced coastal drone missions

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

Our third course helps student pilots fill their log book with commercial flight time. 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.

flight path

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  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).

Outside our Natural Resource Program of Study for the Department of Education we do other operational work with drones, primarily in the areas of real estate listing photography, construction management, crop mapping and bridge/cell tower/powerline survey work for utilities.



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 (above 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 the 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.