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Air Force veteran introduced as state’s first UAS director

July 6, 2016 GMT

Returning to his home state after a 22-year career in the U.S. Air Force, Bob Brock hopes to help grow unmanned aircraft systems programs in Kansas.

The Pittsburg native and retired lieutenant colonel has been selected by the Kansas Department of Transportation to be the state’s first UAS director. He was introduced Tuesday at the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus in Salina, which recently was ranked second in the nation among UAS-training colleges.

UAS, sometimes referred to as drones, are unmanned aircraft that carry cameras and are used to gather data in areas of agriculture, wildfire mapping, disaster management, weather monitoring and law enforcement, among other uses.

“It’s an exciting industry, and the sky is the limit,” Brock said. “We have the right people at the right time at the right place to shape this industry. We’re going to make a lot of history here.”

As UAS director, Brock will oversee establishment of policy and procedures for the operation of UAS in Kansas. During his military career, Brock was a helicopter pilot and flight safety officer. He also commanded a large squadron of UAS while stationed in New Mexico.

Brock, who will have offices at the KDOT headquarters in Topeka and at the K-State Polytechnic Campus, said as drones begin to be used more and more in today’s world, his priorities will be protecting the privacy and public safety of Kansans.

“We’ll work closely with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), universities and aviation leaders to deliver systems that make Kansas safer and also provide economic growth,” he said. “There will be a heavy focus on agriculture. About two-thirds of UAS use in Kansas will be agricultural.”

Students a priority

Working with universities such as K-State Polytechnic to train students to pilot and engineer UAS safely and responsibly also will be an important part of Brock’s job.

“A lot of what I will do comes back to training and education across the state,” he said. “K-State is doing a great job with building a foundation to work with the state.”

When the UAS program began as an introductory class at K-State in Salina in 2007, there were just four students. Enrollment reached about 120 last year, and the campus now offers bachelor’s degrees in UAS operations and engineering, said Kurt Barnhart, associate dean of research and executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center on the Polytechnic Campus.

Barnhart said the UAS program was created partially as a response to the Greensburg tornado in 2007.

“The (program) was created here to improve disaster response and increase public safety,” he said. “We proudly believe in this technology.”

Barnhart said the hiring of Brock as the state’s first UAS director is a positive step forward not only for UAS programs in Kansas, but also as a way to increase economic growth in the area.

“I’m thrilled to see this position created to advance the cause,” he said. “This allows both KDOT and K-State to work together more easily to help advance the industry statewide and bring lasting economic benefit to Kansas.”

Major step forward

Kansas Transportation Secretary and director of the Kansas Turnpike Authority Mike King said UAS is important to what KDOT does and sees Brock’s hiring as a major step forward for UAS growth and the economic future of Kansas.

“Under his guidance, the state will become a national leader in the industry,” he said.

King said he can’t think of another growth industry that will “change our way of life more than UAS.”

“We want to help industry and private businesses come here to manufacture and test UAS,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to really train the next generation to make it all happen. We’re the aviation capital of the world, we say, now let’s go out and prove it.”

Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, has been a longtime champion of UAS programs in Kansas. He said the hiring of a state UAS director is the first step in a long process that he hopes will also include the building of a world-class UAS facility in Salina and an engineering tax credit to encourage students to earn engineering degrees at a Kansas university and then take jobs in the state.

“We want to create good paying jobs not just in Kansas but in Salina,” he said. “We want to be at the epicenter of a multi-million dollar industry here.”