Kevin Garland arrived at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus as a freshman in fall of 2008, the height of the Great Recession. It’s no surprise he ended up at Embry-Riddle, he’d been attracted to aviation since he was six years old when his grandfather introduced him to Radio Control Aircraft (R/C). Naturally, he chose to major in flight. He also selected minors in air traffic control and unmanned aircraft systems. At that time, unmanned aircraft studies were just being introduced to college curriculum. In fact, Embry-Riddle was the first to offer the major that began accepting students into the program in unmanned aircraft systems science in the fall of 2011, just a year before Kevin’s scheduled graduation. But he saw the opportunity in the rapidly expanding field and modified his plan.
When he started college, he had already achieved much success in the world of R/C having soloed when he was just seven years old. By the time he was a senior, he was ranked 4th in Advanced Class his region and had secured a variety of sponsors to support his competitions nationally. He continued his R/C flying at Embry-Riddles part of the R/C Club with a team made up of students majoring in aerospace engineering, communication and unmanned aircraft. Kevin changed his major to aeronautics, a move that gave him added flexibility for gaining minors.
But he says these competitions are about more than winning, they are also about inspiring young people. As a college student, he enjoyed visiting high schools, like Griffin High in his home state of Georgia, and the kids who attend Youth Masters R/C competition where Kevin helps out each year.
Kevin’s final student blog after graduation relates the plans he has for the future: move back home, finish his certified flight instructor rating to become a flight instructor and build flight time, land a job in air traffic control and keep competing in R/C. But that’s not how the future panned out for Kevin, and he’s happy about that for a number of reasons. Let’s ask him about where life took him and where he is today.
How did you land your job at Latitude Engineering?
After completing my degree at the end of the Summer of 2012 I visited the Embry-Riddle Daytona campus in November to see a few friends. While visiting I stopped and spoke to a few of my past professors. Mr. Ted Beneigh who was one of my UAS professors mentioned about a job in Yuma, AZ working for Latitude Engineering. He gave me their contact information (still have that piece of paper today!) That night I emailed Latitude my resume and the next week I heard from them. They mention I basically met all the criteria and they wanted me to fly out to Yuma the next day to do an in-person interview. The interview went great and when I landed back in Atlanta I got a voicemail saying I had been selected for the job and was going to start the first of the year in 2013. Without the help of Professor Beneigh I may have never found this great opportunity.
What is your position and job duties?
From 2013 to late 2015 I worked in Yuma, AZ as a contract R&D Test Pilot for the NAVAIR Program flying the Tiger Shark UAV, which is a 500lb 20-foot wing span UAV. For this particular job I tested new software code, new payloads to be used overseas, and testing new parts for the aircraft itself. I have earned more than 900 hours flying this platform over those three years in Yuma, AZ. My contract with that program ended and late 2015 I moved the Commercial Side of UAVs flying for the BNSF FAA Pathfinder Program working with Latitude. I am currently a Company representative supporting Latitude’s Hybrid Quadcopter Aircraft. This is a VTOL (virtual take-off and landing) aircraft which will be used to support BNSF’s train operations. My roles for this position include doing test flights on the aircraft, teaching new students how to fly the aircraft for BNSF’s operations, and to fix any issues with the aircraft in the field if there is a problem. The FAA Pathfinder project is dealing with BVLOS operations. Fun fact! Embry-Riddle has purchased Latitude Engineering’s HQ-40 Aircraft.
Do other Embry-Riddle alumni work at Latitude?
As of right now no one else from Embry-Riddle works with Latitude Engineering. Alumni are, however working with the same BNSF Pathfinder project working for AUV Flight Services. I am hoping to attract more alumni to Latitude Engineering as it is an awesome company to work for. Where else can you skate board around the office and rip stick around the workbenches?
Are you still competing?
Even with my busy schedule I still compete in aerobatic flying with model aircraft. I still try to make a few competitions each year along with performing airshows at local and regional events.
My main sponsor currently is Futaba / Hobbico. A few other sponsors are Flight Power Batteries, Ohio Model Products, Smart-Fly R/C, B&E Graphix, Spot-On R/C and my newest sponsor is Ready Made R/C.
Do you spend much time flying the old-fashioned way – in the sky?
Flying? I honestly don’t know when I am not flying! I guess when I sleep. I am constantly flying manned and unmanned aircraft along with model aircraft. As for manned flying, I try to get up a few times every month to stay current. I am very fortunate that part of my job is flying manned aircraft for unmanned flight testing. I also have been very fortunate to be able to fly my girlfriend’s family plane which is a Cessna 182. Brenna (my girlfriend) and I have been dating two years now and she enjoys flying as much as I do. I have put on an extra 300 hours since we started dating in their Cessna-182. I say I am very LUCKY! Just last year I completed my Certified Flight Instructor rating and later this year I plan on completing my CFII.
How about your personal life?
During the spring time in 2013 I was out flying R/C aircraft at the local model aircraft field in Yuma, AZ. An older gentleman walked up to me and notice the hat I was wearing was an ERAU hat. He also noticed my airplane had an Embry-Riddle decal on it. He mentioned his granddaughter Brenna was interested in going to college either at ERAU in Prescott or UND. I gave my personal opinion and he wanted my phone and email address for her to contact me. Brenna later emailed me and asked me a few questions about the University. I personally did not know much about the Prescott campus as I went to the Daytona campus, but I answered the questions to the best of my ability. She later mentioned she chose ERAU in Prescott and she was starting in the Fall of 2013. We talked over the phone and via emails for nearly a year till we actually met in person in Spring time of 2014. We really got along as we shared a lot of things together. We have been on many adventures in her parents Cessna 182. We have flown across the country from Yuma, AZ to Atlanta, Georgia several times along with flying to her hometown from Prescott, AZ to Alden, IA. We have also flown into Oshkosh together and Sun N Fun. Other great trips were flying to Telluride, CO, Catalina Island, and to see the Arches in Utah. Even though we graduated from two different campuses we both worked great as a flight crew. She graduated from the Prescott campus back in December of 2015 and she now has a job as a First Officer for Boutique Airlines flying a PC-12.
Words of advice?
I would like to thank my family for supporting me all of these years. My parents always worried about the money we spent on flying r/c aircraft during my years living at home. The hobby is not cheap, but I was very fortunate enough to have my parents help out when I was younger. Today my parents said their investment in my hobby paid off, because I have landed a dream job of mine of flying Unmanned Aircraft. The person I would like to thank the most is my Grandfather. He is the one that introduced me to this hobby and taught me how to fly mode aircraft. Without his help there is no telling what I would be doing as for a career today. Model Aircraft, I feel, is a great starting point for anyone to get into the field of aviation. Let’s put it this way. My first flight in a manned aircraft the Instructor never had to take the controls from take-off to landing. After landing my instructor looked at me and said “are you ready to solo” Of course he was joking, but he could tell the skills I learned from flying r/c aircraft transferred to my manned flying skills.