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GCSC opens application for ‘drone boot camp’

Tim Croft

Gulf Coast State College announced last week the opening of registration for the first cohort of a new drone program coming to the college.

The college is partnering with the Unmanned Safety Institute, with offices at the Gulf/Franklin campus, for a hybrid instructional program that will allow students to receive up to eight industry certifications and college credit in an accelerated format, primarily online.

The program is placing a priority on exiting military personnel from an eight-county Northwest Florida region impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The boot camp is a nearly $4 million project with the college and partners providing a $1.7 match to a $2.2 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast.

In 16 weeks, a student could earn all the certifications for “outside of line of sight flying,” said Frank Fuller, Triumph’s education consultant during a presentation to the Triumph board.

The region, Fuller added, could see a 12 percent growth in operations from companies such as FedEx and Amazon due to the demand on unmanned aerial systems.

“They are clamoring for unmanned aerial systems,” Fuller said. “It reduces contact and reduces costs.”

GCSC President John Holdnak said the college had a unique position for such a program, geographically and with partnerships and building infrastructure.

The college is partnering with several stakeholders on other program tailored to the unmanned aerial systems industry, including a disaster response and readiness program under consideration for funding via Triumph Gulf Coast.

The county’s public high schools, also with the assistance of Triumph funding, have also initiated a program in unmanned aerial systems.

Jim McKnight, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition, has characterized the boot camp program a “wrap-around” to the high school efforts.

While the boot camp does prioritize exiting military personnel and their spouses, there would be pathways of opportunity for high school students with the proper certifications to enter the boot camp program.

“We look forward to working with a variety of private stakeholders to make Gulf County the epicenter for unmanned aerial systems,” Holdnak told the Triumph board.

The bulk of the learning would be online with on-site hands-on testing to earn certifications, according to the USI website.

Financial aid and scholarships for the program are available, the college announced last week.

No experience in flying unmanned aircraft is necessary.

The first cohort starts on June 15.

For registration and additional information, visit, or contact Melanie Boyd at or (850) 769.1551, ext. 3839.