Aviation’s Future: How Sinclair College is Pioneering the Next Generation of Drone Tech


Innovation and international reach at the National UAS Training and Certification Center

Innovators in Ohio are always quick to take to the sky, and one Dayton facility is making sure the next generation of aviators has the tools they need to succeed. Since 2013, Sinclair College has operated the National UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Training and Certification Center from its Dayton campus, providing the facility that will guide hundreds of aviators into the future.

“At the center, we have training and education programs, commercialization and technology development support, data analytics, modeling and simulation, applied research and more,” said Dr. Andrew Shepherd, executive director and chief scientist. “We’re advancing the state of the industry while developing the skills for the new jobs that are out there in the community. We work with partners here in Dayton and in Ohio, but also nationally and internationally.”

For the UAS Center, drone technology is far more than real-estate photography, warfare and weekend hobbies. Shepherd and Sinclair see unmanned aviation as the next major frontier, and one that can be led from right here in Ohio.

“Most of the public thinks of drones as a toy or something for the military, but we see it as a new tool,” said Shepherd. “It’s like a cell phone or a laptop computer. You didn’t really know you needed it until you had it and then you couldn’t imagine living without it. It’s opening all kinds of new jobs, not just for people that were already a surveyor or realtor, but also for dedicated personnel that want to be a pilot or data analyst. We look at it as a new and emerging industry and see hundreds of billions of dollars in global impact over a 10-year period. We want to make sure that Ohio gets to be part of that.”

Ohio’s place on the front lines of unmanned aviation is a natural fit. Since the Wright Brothers invented their gliders in Dayton, the Gem City has been known as the home of aviation in Ohio and beyond, and Sinclair plans to continue that tradition even when pilots are no longer sitting in their aircraft.

“Dayton and Ohio in general has been a leader in aerospace since before there was aerospace, and Sinclair’s roots go back to the dawn of aviation,” said Shepherd. “We found aeronautics courses in our catalog from 1929. During the Great Recession, the community in general looked around and said, ‘What do we know how to do in Dayton? We know how to make things. We know how to teach people to do things. We have our Air Force base.’ A lot of that ties into unmanned aerial systems, so there was a strategic decision to invest significantly. We’ve been a very early adopter and a leader ever since.”

But Sinclair isn’t just following tradition. The school sees its UAS Center as a facility for economic growth, international connections and industry leadership. Shepherd said the facility is creating solutions to a variety of problems while benefiting the community in Dayton and beyond.

“We see UAS as a developer of local industry and a way to make things more effective — from agriculture to first responders. And we position ourselves as an integral part of the community. For example, when the tornadoes came through in 2019, Sinclair committed resources to map the damage to facilities with aerial videography supporting the state and county engineers as they were trying to get a handle on what had happened. We’re linked in at the national level, where we support the advancement of technology and regulation and implementation. We’re bringing attention and distinction to Ohio and to the Dayton region to maintain our position as an aerospace leader.”

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