Seeing earth from the sky: Ohio State's new UAS pilot soars above campus

Posted: April 8, 2022

The field of drones – also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – is rapidly taking off. To further expand impact and prepare tomorrow’s aviation leaders, The Ohio State University College of Engineering Center for Aviation Studies and Engineering Technology Services recently hired UAS Program Manager Mark Bolin. Below, he shares highlights about the job, what’s at the top of his campus drone photography bucket list and information about careers in UAS.

Mark Bolin looking skyward and holding a drone controller
Mark Bolin piloting a recent flight at the university airport.

Question: 1. What’s the scope of your work as the center’s UAS program manager?
Mark Bolin: I am tasked with a number of jobs that will help to make this program eventually turn into a minor or major degree. On a daily basis I am tasked with flying for various departments throughout the university. I am setting up our own university standard operating procedures, checklists and various other documents to help stand up a functioning UAS program.

2. Are there any exciting projects on the horizon that you can discuss?
MB: I will be working with Planning, Architecture and Real Estate (PARE) to annually capture all of the campuses that are part of Ohio State in the coming weeks. Once the campuses have been captured, PARE will then be able to use photogrammetry to stitch them all together to have one big updated picture of the campuses. Similar to how someone would see a campus from Google Maps satellite view, but in much more detail since we will be 400 feet from the ground.

3. In what ways will you support research in the college and across the university?
MB: The possibilities for UAS are really only limited by the imagination of someone. We are about to begin planning on ways to work with ALL of the Ohio State departments, including the medical center. If there is a way to make a task safer or more efficient, we would be more than happy to assist and test the UAS capabilities.

4. How does your work intersect with or complement UAS activities already happening at The Ohio State University Airport?
MB: The best thing about working at a university is that other departments within can work together to create truly unique and inspiring products. One UAS in our fleet, the WingtraOne Gen II fixed-wing drone, can map the entire airfield in a few hours and for a fraction of the cost of a crewed plane with the same equipment. Also, the airport is one of the few nationwide already using UAS in their airfield inspections, so it’s great to work with them to expand their capabilities in this area.

Aerial view of KOSU
Drones with photographic capabilities can take photos, such as this one, to help monitor airfield conditions. Ohio State airport is a leader in integrating drones into airfield maintenance operations.

5. What’s on your drone photography bucket list for Ohio State campus?
MB: Ohio State has some amazing buildings that I will be collecting data on. I would say, once we get our lidar (light detection and ranging) drone, I would love to get a 3D model of Ohio Stadium. This would allow someone to be able to click anywhere in the stadium itself and see in detail a 3D image.

6. What makes UAS work fun?
MB: Being able to work with various people and understand their reasonings for wanting to use UAS makes it fun, and it also helps us paint the picture of how we can help businesses, researchers and anyone else that has not used UAS before.

7. How did you become interested in a UAS-focused career, and what is your degree?
MB: The Marine Corps sort of made me have interest and then I grew on to love UAS. There is just something fun about being up in the sky and being able to see the earth from that perspective and all of the things you would not normally see if you drove by it. My degree is unmanned systems applications. It focuses on all things unmanned, whether it be land, air or sea. Maybe one day we will be able to showcase some of the other unmanned applications rather than just the aerial domain!

8. For those interested in getting their drone pilot certificate, what steps do you recommend?
MB: The FAA requires anyone that wants to fly drones recreationally must obtain The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST). If they want to fly commercially, they will need to obtain their Part 107. (Visit FAA.gov for more information.)

Ohio State offers one UAS class currently and is expected to offer two courses in the fall. AVN3194 is partnered with Unmanned Safety Institute (USI) to give the students all the information they need to obtain their Part 107. The second class that is expected to be introduced in the fall is tailored to those that have their Part 107 and want to learn more about the applications of UAS and how to fly them responsibly. It will combine classroom instruction, along with UAS flight, both real and simulated.

Mark Bolin piloting a drone with the airport control tower in the background
Bolin is a regular at the Ohio State airport and will soon be flying over the Columbus and regional campuses to assist with documentation.

9. The industries benefiting from UAS are growing rapidly. In your opinion, what are some areas in which future drone pilots might find high-demand or unique work?
MB: The industry is indeed growing very rapidly and companies are having a hard time finding Part 107 users. There is a huge demand for these operators and the use cases between these companies vary greatly. Drone manufacturers need operators to test, fly and sell their systems. Agriculture has fields all over Ohio that need to be inspected. Network operators are hiring all across the country for Part 107 users to go and inspect their 5G antennas. If someone wants to travel overseas there are contractor companies that need operators. There are plenty of opportunities for drone work that previously could not have been done or been done by manned aviation. I would say, if a person has a career path that they want to go down, chances are drones can help them in one way or another.

10. Anything else you’d like to share?
MB: When I was a kid graduating high school I had no idea UAS would be my career. I think it was good timing when I got in the Marine Corps to be a UAS operator because that is when commercial UAS really began to “takeoff”. It has been a promising career path and the surface has just barely been scratched on the capabilities of UAS applications. Ohio State is working hard to implement UAS into their engineering, agriculture and aviation departments. I would love to be able to work with all of the university departments to find new ways to use UAS across the board.

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