CHARLESTON — Marshall University has received five commercial-grade drones for use as part of the growing curriculum in its Bill Noe Flight School.
Provided by West Virginia-based Metatron Unmanned Solutions, the drones and accompanying equipment, valued at more than $93,000, are part of a long-term strategy by Marshall’s Division of Aviation to grow the program.
Among the donated drones are two Hercules 20 drones and one Hercules 10 drone in addition to cutting-edge drone technology.
Bryan Branham, director and chief instructor of the Bill Noe Flight School, which opened this fall, said the drones and support equipment fit into the school’s plans to add Federal Aviation Administration remote pilot certification to the curriculum.
Headquartered in Charleston with satellite offices throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, Metatron Unmanned Solutions is a global provider of unmanned aerial vehicles. Metatron’s focus is on commercial use of drones and the development of curriculum to educate and qualify potential operators of commercial drones.
Marshall alumnus Arville Cline, CFO/COO of Metatron Unmanned Solutions, said changes to the market due to the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to partner with the university and provide an inventory of new Drone Volt machines for use by the new aviation program.
“The economic challenge of the pandemic moved the focus of Metatron from drone sales to exclusively that of operator education. The result was a large inventory of brand new, unused drones for which a market was now handicapped,” he said. “After discussion with other members of Metatron, and with their approval, I decided that the means to step through the open door of giving back to the university was now available.”
Cline, who graduated from Marshall in 1974, said delivering the drones was a “banner moment” in his life.
“As a small-town guy that was given the opportunity to develop a career, I hold a personally developed obligation to a university that afforded me the educational tools to pursue a career that created a life for myself and those I love,” he said.
The flight school program is housed at Yeager Airport in Charleston. At its peak, Marshall will graduate 50 pilots a year with a total enrollment of 200 students. The aviation maintenance program will reside at Huntington Tri-State Airport.