It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a-- UAS? In Gamble Hall?


Averi Haugesag

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Business & Public Administration


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an—Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)?

Starting the fourth week in August, they’ll be flying in the University of North Dakota’s Gamble Hall.

“We’re launching the first-ever UAS Business course at UND,” says Matt Dunlevy, a UND alumni and the current President/ CEO of SkySkopes, “It’s actually pretty exciting in my opinion.” The class is listed as a special topics course for three credits from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays; There are no requirements, no prerequisites and it’s open to all majors—from freshmen to those pursuing their PhD. “You have to have a pulse and you have to be admitted to UND,” says Dunlevy with a laugh.

The Course Takes Flight

The University of North Dakota and the City of Grand Forks are reputable in the UAS industry. The city is home to the Grand Forks Air Force Base; Grand Sky, the nation’s first commercial UAS business and aviation park; and the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, the largest operational unmanned surveillance aircraft in the world. In addition to all this, the University recently unveiled it’s new UAS/aerospace research facility, Robin Hall.

While there is a great deal of emphasis at the University on the piloting aspects of UAS, Dunlevy feels recent regulation changes created a unique opportunity for the UND College of Business & Public Administration (CoBPA) to take on something a little different. “Nobody had really been taking a concerted approach to analyzing and studying the business side of UAS yet. I saw an opportunity to do that so I created a syllabus and proposed the course to the dean and she went for it,” says Dunlevy.

After doing some additional research, Dunlevy says he discovered something that would make the class even more revolutionary than he thought. “This isn’t just the first UAS in Business course that’s offered at UND, it’s almost certainly the first that’s offered in any institution nation-wide.”

Multiphase Education

Dunlevy says the students enrolled in his class will be part of one of the first institutional groups to take advantage of some of the new rules and regulations set in place by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “As long as it’s for research, students won’t have to go through any bureaucracy to fly. So if there’s a student who isn’t certified, they would still be able to fly a device with me because we’re going to be working toward a research objective,” says Dunlevy.

The class will be broken up into three phases. The first phase will be an introduction to UAS operations. In this segment, students will have the opportunity to fly a device with North Dakotan small UAS flight operator, SkySkopes. The second portion of the class is all about the business aspects of the industry: decision making, risk, regulatory environment and the kinds of challenges UAS companies face. The third integrates an entrepreneurial way of thinking, as students will be tasked with dividing up into groups and creating their own mock UAS business. At the very end, students will present the ideas they came up with to venture capitalists and powerhouse people in the industry—similar to ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank.

Industry Leaders

In addition to the multiphase education, students will learn first-hand from some big names in the UAS industry. “We’re bringing in subject matter experts from across the industry to discuss their specialties and some of the unique experiences they’ve had,” says Dunlevy.

Rick Thomas, a man with a significant amount of UAS experience, is one of those individuals. As a matter of fact, he’s co-teaching the class with Dunlevy. “I do enjoy teaching and I think there’s some experience I can pass on to students who are interested in learning about the industry,” says Thomas.

Thomas first started his flying career in the military. “Both the RQ-2 Pioneer and finally the Global Hawk UAS,” says Thomas. “After that I did some research and consulting. I also wrote a book about the history of the Global Hawk. Currently, my job here in the Red River Valley is to enhance research and innovative opportunities as a program manager at Northrop Grumman.”

This won’t be Thomas’ first time teaching—he was once an instructor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. According to Thomas, Dunlevy will be teaching more of the operations aspect and he will teach more of the business-side of things. “In this class I hope to see people who are very interested in UAS entrepreneurship,” says Thomas, “They can come from any background. A business student would be a great fit, maybe someone who doesn’t want to get into as much of the operations but really wants to understand the operations and develop a business-management background. Or really any kind of major that is interested in going out and testing a new idea and becoming an entrepreneur themselves.” In the words of Thomas, all students need is, “interest and a little bit of drive to learn something that’s kind of new and upcoming.”

Part 107 Certification

While the class comes with opportunity to learn from both the textbooks—which are actually just FAA manuals—and experts in the field, students will also have the option to become a certified UAS pilot themselves. If a student chooses to take the $150 test, he or she will earn what’s called a Part 107 certification. “With this they would be able to fly commercially and individually, which is new,” says Dunlevy, “And then they can also use it to fly for profit.”

Pretty cool, right?

“It allows them to do certain kinds of activities under those FAA rules that would exclude hobbyists. For example, if you are a realtor and would like to get some shots of a pricey property to glitz it up, you could do it. If you’re a film maker or involved in communications or fine arts and would like to do some kind of photography, you could do that too. Anything that requires a small UAS that is for hire or compensation, you’ll need this certification and training,” says Thomas.

A Sky-High Megatrend

An article by Business Insider titled, “The Drones Report,” estimates revenues from drone sales to top $12 billion in 2021. They also predict, “shipments of consumer drones will more than quadruple over the next five years.” And they show no sign of slowing down.

As the UAS industry continues to grow and the skies fill with some of these small, yet user-friendly high-tech devices, Dunlevy encourages business people to get educated. “It’s important for business students in particular to understand one of the most important megatrends going on,” he says.

He says without exception, UAS is going to touch every one of us… sooner, rather than later.