Taking Flight

Drone Academy trains tomorrow’s workforce

A close-up photo of a drone hovering in the air. It has a pair of rotary blades on each side. In the lower center of the drone is a camera. Behind the drone stand two men. One is holding the controls for the drone.

Jim Cloutier isn’t afraid to admit it: He’s addicted to drones.

“I started flying over 10 years ago. And at some point, my wife hinted that if I continued investing in this type of equipment, we had to start making some money from it,” he says, laughing.

Cloutier and his wife started Red Dog Aerial Media, which specializes in photos and video taken using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, for businesses, broadcasters, real estate companies, construction firms and others. He’s also an instructor for Drone Academy, a new program from UNH Professional Development and Training (PDT) that immerses drone operators in the basics of safely flying and operating drones.

“Drone technology is a vital tool to add to your toolbox of skills,” Cloutier says. “If you’re a surveyor, you can use UAVs to enhance the services you provide. If you’re an engineering company, you can use drones to decrease the time it takes to collect data. Or, you can start a company dedicated to whatever you can do with UAVs.”

Though the technology is relatively young, the UAV industry is soaring. A 2013 report from industry group Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimated that by 2025, UAV technology will help create more than 100,000 jobs.


PDT’s Drone Academy course is making sure some of those jobs come to New Hampshire.

“Our mission is about meeting New Hampshire’s workforce needs,” says Chris LaBelle, PDT’s director. “In this case, we spoke to the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT) Bureau of Aeronautics, and they mentioned there was a need for this kind of training.”

PDT worked with NHDOT and Red Dog Aerial Media to create a curriculum that’s responsive to the needs of New Hampshire communities and up-to-date on the latest federal regulations.

Drone Academy is in its second year. The program began in 2017 with a course designed for police, firefighters and other first responders. The course was a hit, according to LaBelle, and Drone Academy has expanded to offer four-day drone operator certificate programs, additional first-responder trainings and certification exam preparation. Also in development: a course that delves into using drones and ArcGIS mapping software.

Cloutier believes the field is only going to keep growing. “Civil engineers and surveyors are using it for mapping, taking measurements and construction, and you’ve got a lot of agricultural applications too,” he says. “And that’s the tip of the iceberg.”

His advice to the UAV workforce’s next generation? Keep watching the skies.

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Larry Clow
Former Production Editor