Unmanned Aerial Systems one among many new majors

Originally published in the 2015 edition of Innovation magazine

Michael Leasure published his first academic article on unmanned aerial systems as a Purdue sophomore in 1982. Thirty-four years later, he will be one of two faculty members in the Department of Aviation Technology leading the new unmanned aerial systems (UAS) major.

As technology has made it easier to fly smaller and smaller aircraft, more companies have discussed adding them to their business mix (Amazon deliveries, anyone?). The new major at Purdue will help students examine the entire system surrounding the unmanned aerial industry, including design, operations, sensors, commerce and policy.

“This is an all-new curriculum, with eight new courses including a senior capstone experience,” Leasure, an associate professor of aviation technology, says. “We’ll cover materials and processes, manual flight training, fully autonomous flight, operating regulations and data acquisition.”

Leasure and Michael Nolan, professor of aviation technology, say the focus on the entire system, from regulations and policy to flight training and maintenance, sets this program apart.

“Everything that goes into an airline today has to go into the unmanned aerial system. It’s not just the individual units, it is fleets of aircraft,” Nolan says. “There are safety ramifications, and you have to truly understand the navigation system that supports it.”

Leasure has offered one class on the topic for the past two years, and it has been very popular with students from across campus. He believes that interest will only grow with the expansion into a Purdue major. Students majoring in agriculture, engineering, computer graphics, construction management — practically any Purdue major — can find a use for unmanned aircraft or information collected by one.

“These machines can help with traffic analysis, active shooter situations, precision agriculture, military operations, air quality testing and more,” Nolan says. “We haven’t thought of everything yet.”

To help expand the possibilities, the senior capstone project will challenge students to propose and demonstrate new uses for the technology.

The UAS major is enrolling current students now and will accept first-year students in fall 2016.


Purdue Polytechnic has expanded its list of majors from 12 to 37, most of which were available to current students in fall 2015.

Department of Aviation Technology

  • Aeronautical Engineering Technology
  • Aerospace Financial Analysis
  • Airline Management and Operations
  • Airport Management and Operations
  • Aviation Management
  • Professional Flight Technology
  • Unmanned Aerial Systems

School of Construction Management Technology

  • Building Construction Management Technology
  • Demolition and Restoration Management in the Built Environment
  • Healthcare Construction Management
  • Mechanical and Electrical Construction Management
  • Residential Construction Management

Department of Computer Graphics Technology

  • Animation
  • Building Information Modeling
  • Effects Technical Direction
  • Game Studies
  • Human Centered Design and Development
  • Virtual Product Integration
  • Visual Effects Compositing
  • Web Programming and Design

Department of Computer and Information Technology

  • Computer and Information Technology
  • Network Engineering Technology
  • Systems Analysis and Design

School of Engineering Technology

  • Audio Engineering Technology
  • Automation and Systems Integration Engineering Technology
  • Computer Engineering Technology
  • Electrical Engineering Technology
  • Energy Engineering Technology
  • Engineering Technology (available at Statewide locations only)
  • Mechanical Engineering Technology
  • Mechatronics Engineering Technology
  • Robotics Engineering Technology

Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation

  • Engineering/Technology Teacher Education
  • Industrial Engineering Technology
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Supply Chain Management Technology


  • Transdisciplinary Studies in Technology (available fall 2016)