DADE CITY — The devices zipping and whirring over the Pasco-Hernando State College campus Monday might have looked like toys from afar.
The students and instructors piloting the unmanned aircraft from the ground, however, considered them anything but.
"There’s so much more to it than just flying," said student Daniel Price, 32, of Tampa.
The vehicles, commonly called drones, are the focus of a new training program at the college. This fall marks the beginning of what the school says is the state’s first drone-pilot degree program.
It came about after the state directed funds last year toward STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — efforts at the college.
Students in the program can earn a Federal Aviation Administration certification — which allows them to pilot drones for profit — as part of an associate’s degree. They’ll join a burgeoning industry that’s rapidly becoming a part of law enforcement, disaster management and other ventures.
"We are shaping and defining the standards and the uses for business," said Rob Trsek, an aviation administration and maintenance instructor.
The drones can carry sensors and cameras that allow operators to model the dimensions of spaces, zoom in to snap photos or read heat signatures with infrared lenses.
On Monday afternoon, five students in the new program tested a fleet of drones. The small ones cost about $1,000. Others — which Trsek called the Ferraris of the drone world — can cost up to $20,000.
Eighteen-year-old Evan Smith, originally from Oregon, piloted his first drone during the demonstration. It was a compact, buzzy model that he took far into the sky and out over a pond.
What has drawn him to flying since his youth?
"How you can see the world from a different perspective," he said.
Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.