By Clay Dillow, contributor
FORTUNE -- Charles Taylor did not set out to become a drone pilot. An avid fan of remote-controlled planes, Taylor didn't know much about unmanned aircraft outside the occasional news of military Predator strikes. But in August 2012 the University of North Dakota grad was among the first to receive a bachelor's degree tailored to unmanned-aircraft operations.
Civilian airspace will be open to unmanned traffic in 2015, creating demand for pilots -- part aeronautical engineer, part physicist, part software coder. Analysts predict global spending on drones will double over the next decade, to $11.4 billion. Potential markets range from law enforcement to wildlife management and oil and gas discovery.
Academia and business are co-creating programs to churn out qualified graduates. The University of North Dakota was the first to offer a specific degree program in 2009. It has roughly 120 majors today. Many are drawn by the prospect of high pay: Salaries average $100,000. And aerospace giants General Dynamics (GD), Northrop Grumman (NOC), Boeing (BA), and Lockheed Martin (LMT) are hoping to replace their retiring rank and file with drone-trained grads.
Taylor and his peers are among the first products of this effort. Just two weeks after circulating his résumé, the 23-year-old had something many in this economy dream of: prospects for a lucrative career.
This story is from the January 14, 2013 issue of Fortune.
More from The Future Issue
Is this a toy for Andy Rubin or a replacement for Google's Streetview mapping fleet?
Update: Jeff Jarvis says on Twitter and the comments that it is indeed an executive buying stuff.
News out of Germany over the weekend had Google (GOOG) buying at least one md4-1000 drone aircraft from Microdrones GmbH. The remote controlled aircraft can carry any payload weighting up to 1.2 kilograms and can fly as high as MORESeth Weintraub - Aug 9, 2010 11:29 AM ET
|Michaels hack hit 3 million|
|Wealthy investors flock to fine art funds|
|GM's recalled Cobalt was a failure from the start|
|Stocks end week up over 2%|
|Detroit pension cuts hit civilian workers hardest|