We’re Watching U.

March 31, 2012

MQ-9 Reaper drone (credit: U.S. Air Force)

Amid a worldwide boom in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a handful of U.S. colleges have begun offering classes and even four-year degrees for students looking for jobs in this fast-growing field, where even newcomers can earn six-figure salaries, The Daily reports.

Starting salaries for drone pilots range from $50,000 to $120,000 per year, said Tom Kenville, who founded a trade group called Unmanned Applications Institute International for development of the UAS industry in North Dakota. Analysts who process images captured by the vehicles can earn $100,000 per year starting out.

In addition, the pilotless aircraft industry will create more than 23,000 U.S. jobs over the next 15 years, according to a 2010 study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which is dedicated to unmanned systems and robotics

Something like a dozen colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer for-credit courses on flying unmanned aerial vehicles, and more than 150 colleges and universities nationwide have programs dedicated to robotics and unmanned systems, according to the association.

The market research firm the Teal Group reported last year that annual worldwide spending on UAVs and related research is projected to double by 2020 — to more than $10 billion.

The federal Labor Department expects demand for aerospace engineers who specialize in computer systems to rise 46 percent by 2020, compared with a 10 percent increase in the number of lawyers and nuclear engineers.

It’s not clear what percentage of these job and courses is based on military operations. – Ed.