Northland to Host Aerial Drone Competition and Open House to Showcase High Demand Careers in Aviation


Northland to Host Aerial Drone Competition and Open House to Showcase High Demand Careers in Aviation

Visitors can take part in hands-on activities, virtual reality experiences, and see drones in competition

November 29, 2021 – Northland Community & Technical College’s aerospace site in Thief River Falls will welcome the community for a public open house on Saturday, December 11, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. In conjunction with this event, a first-of-its-kind to northwest Minnesota REC Foundation Aerial Drone Competition (RADC), the 2021-22 Challenge: Downdraft 2, will be held featuring high school students from across the region.

Visitors to this event can test their metal riveting skills, fly small drones, explore the world of virtual reality, and compete in a paper airplane creation and flying contest to win some Northland gear. Take the opportunity to sit in the cockpit in one of many aircraft, explore Northland’s industry specific program offerings, and enjoy some refreshments.

Northland faculty, students, and staff will be on hand to speak to the opportunities available in the aerospace industry. This career field is in high demand, with a national outlook revealing a need for 192,000 qualified aircraft maintenance technicians between 2020 and 2039. This particular challenge is due to the aging workforce and overall shortage of trained technicians. These factors have aerospace employers investing in recruiting serious candidates within the first semester of college at Northland.

“We’re excited to invite the community into our facility to learn more about our programs and see the cutting edge technology we work with first hand,” shared Curtis Zoller, Northland Associate Dean of Aerospace. “Visiting in person is the best way to see the high-tech and hands-on learning that Northland’s students experience every day. The aerospace industry is fast evolving and there is no ceiling to the career opportunities that wait for trained professionals.”

Along with the open house, up to 14 high school student teams will compete in the RADC 2021-22 Challenge. In this exciting competition, teams maneuver around obstacles and through gates to score as many points as possible and accumulate the highest score. Matches will begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue through the afternoon culminating with an awards ceremony at 3:00 p.m.

“The RADC competition is a great way to get kids involved in STEM in a new and exciting way. Teams show off not only their flying skills but their critical thinking, programming and communication skills as well,” shared Zack Nicklin, Northland UAS Instructor. “This type of event is a gateway to finding passion in STEM and allows students to explore concepts that can ultimately lead to high tech and great paying jobs in the autonomous technology industry.”

RADC fosters student development through teamwork, critical thinking, project management, and communication skills required to prepare them to become the next generation of innovators and problem solvers.

Northland’s aerospace site is an 86,000 square foot ultra-modern facility located at the Thief River Falls Airport and is host to $18 million of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and other industry-specific equipment.

The open house is free and open to the public, and the RADC Challenge welcomes spectators to cheer on the competing teams. As with all Minnesota State system locations, a mask is required for entry to the Northland facility. For additional information, contact Zack Nicklin at or 218.683.8830; or visit