McAuliffe awards $300,000 grant to Virginia Drone Project


WISE, Va. - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has awarded $300,000 in grant money to promote commercial drone use in Southwest Virginia. News 5's Kristi O'Connor found out how Wise County leaders will use this money to bring people from all over the world to their community for drone training. Two years ago, Wise County Court Clerk Jack Kennedy started the Virginia Drone Innovation Project to the grow the drone industry and job economy in Wise County. "Unmanned aerial systems are proliferating through the economy, in actuality I think we're going to see it take a significant leap forward after the presidential administration settles in," Kennedy said. Part of the project involved teaming up with Mountain Empire Community College. Professor Fred Coeburn started an introductory course on unmanned aircrafts. "On the first day of class I give them this. A bag of 300 or some odd parts and pieces," Coeburn said. They are expected to build the drone by hand, program the brains behind the aircraft and eventually fly it. The class has been such a success, the professor presented a whole program on drones to the Virginia Community College Board. It includes these four courses: introductory, pilot test course, advanced course and a mapping course. The courses have been approved and this semester community college students across the state can start taking the program for the first time "So now we can start developing programs, career studies, and then financial aid will kick in for the students, and they can actually become a certified drone pilot," Coeburn said. Kennedy wants to expand beyond college students, he is working with private drone companies from Israel to Australia so that eventually people interested in commercial drone use will think of southwest Virginia. "We want to have the workforce train here to engage this industry on a global basis," Kennedy said. He says drones can pave the way for more jobs in the region, like in real-estate, farming, the coalfields and more. "Well I think it's only limited to one's imagination," Kennedy said. In total, Kennedy says the the Virginia Drone Project has been awarded more than $2.2 million in grants.