John Benhart, professor of regional planning in IUP’s Department of Geography, Geology, Environment, and Planning and director of IUP’s Geospatial Intelligence Certificate programs and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certificate programs, is an invited panelist for the second annual Aerium Summit and will be a panelist for a program at the thirty-third annual Showcase for Commerce.

The Aerium Summit is May 28 to 30 at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport; the Showcase for Commerce is in Johnstown May 29 to 31.

IUP will be an exhibitor at the Showcase for Commerce and at the Aerium Summit, providing information on IUP’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems programs as well as other science programs in the Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

IUP is the only university in Pennsylvania recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration as an FAA Collegiate Training Institution. Benhart is a GISCI Certified GIS Professional and an FAA Certified Remote sUAS (drone) pilot.

The Aerium Summit, sponsored by the nonprofit Aerium organization, is expected to draw more than 350 attendees from various sectors crucial to aviation, aerospace, and education. This event is designed for industry leaders, stakeholders, experts, and students to come together to share ideas, explore innovative opportunities, and be immersed in new and existing technology.

The Showcase for Commerce is a nationally renowned business and industry trade show and defense contracting exhibition, with more than 1,000 people in attendance, including elected officials and others in government agencies and programs.

Benhart will be a panelist for the Aerium Summit’s “Workforce Pathway 2: University Roundtable” on May 29. This discussion will focus on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in aviation education. He also will moderate a session on May 30, “Workforce Pathway 4: How Workforce Elevates the Aviation Community,” a discussion on how workforce development drives the aviation community to new heights.

At the Summit for Commerce, Benhart will be a panelist for the May 30 “Autonomous Vehicles” session.  

In addition to the distinction by the FAA as a Collegiate Training Institution, IUP has received funding from the federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant to purchase and test a WingtraOne Gen II hybrid drone for IUP’s Geospatial Intelligence and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certificate programs.

IUP has offered an Unmanned Aerial Systems Science and Applications Certificate since 2019. IUP’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems certificates are designed to prepare students to become FAA-certified remote pilots of small-unmanned aircraft (sUAS, commonly referred to as drones), which are defined by the FAA as aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds.

The FAA’s UAS-CTI program recognizes institutions that prepare students for careers in unmanned aircraft systems. In order to qualify for the initiative, schools must offer a bachelor’s or associate degree in UAS or a degree with a minor, concentration, or certificate in UAS. Schools must provide a curriculum covering various aspects of UAS training, including hands-on flight practice, maintenance, uses, applications, privacy concerns, safety, and federal policies concerning UAS.

Benhart, along with department faculty member Christopher Schaney, developed IUP’s UAS program based on their research interests in high-accuracy mapping and spatial analysis of human-environment interaction.

“IUP was really ahead of the curve in terms of using drones to do mapping in our Geographic Information Science program,” Benhart said. “Offering the training for students to prepare to become FAA-certified remote pilots and to carry out drone flight missions to meet a variety of objectives was a natural outgrowth of our programs in the department,” he said.

To date, about 40 students, mostly from IUP, have completed IUP’s UAS program, which includes 12 credit hours of study.