Student pilots fly the virtual skies as drones ready for takeoff

Student pilots fly the virtual skies as drones ready for takeoff
 A growing number of American students are eager to cash in on expected boom market for drone operators after more unmanned aircraft become legal to fly in U.S. airspace, which could happen in the next few years.

The University of North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft degree program, the nation’s first, exploded from five students in 2009 to 120 students last year. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Kansas State University have since added similar programs.

Dozens of other schools offer some courses in what’s known as UAS — unmanned aircraft systems — which range from drones as big as small planes to two-foot-wide mini-helicopters.

Drones are best known for their use by the U.S. military, but other markets beckon. Amazon made a splash earlier this month by unveiling an embryonic effort that might someday deliver packages by drone, though the company acknowledged practical use is years away.

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