It’s all about takeoffs and landings,” says Brian Jones, bringing the white, DJI Phantom 3 in for a gentle landing in the field near the campus tennis courts.

Standing under a small tent nearby, Jones works the remote while keeping an eye on the monitor and receiving instruction from another member of the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP).

Showing off the drone capabilities was the focus of the Lion Fly-In, held in August at Missouri Southern. Beginning in the fall of 2020, the University will offer three courses designed to prepare students for certification to fly small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). The courses will range from an introduction to sUAS operations to their design, production and application, and professional piloting practices.

Along with CAP representatives, including a group of young cadet members, the weekend event also brought in several members of the local Sky Kings RC Club.

Allen Hamlin, the chief of police in Indian Point, Mo., and a member of the Civil Air Patrol, was among those gathered to demonstrate the capability of drones. He said they have become an important tool for law enforcement.

“We started using them because of their search and rescue capabilities,” he said. “You can search a grid while watching on a monitor. The Highway Patrol is using them for their mapping aspects and disaster assessment.

“There are huge implications for our field and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”

Jones, who is developing the program for Missouri Southern, had a nearly 30-year career in the Air Force and another 18 flying commercial aircraft carriers.

“I became interested in drones because my goal has been to fly as many different things as I could,” he says. “The Department of Transportation under our last two presidential administrations has called unmanned systems ‘the next generation of aviation.’ Younger people need to get involved to know where this is going and I wanted to give them the same opportunities I’ve had.”

Jones says he reached out to the administration at Missouri Southern to gauge interest in launching a drone program and was pleased to hear back almost immediately.

“I really want to keep the aviation profession going,” he says. “There will be problems if we don’t educate ourselves. The density of air traffic is not going down, and with the explosion of unmanned systems it’s getting really high.”