You may not know this, but students right here in the Coastal Bend are helping to make Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi a national leader in drone technology.

The university is currently operating unmanned aircraft missions in order to collect information that could one day help farmers and ranchers and even detect oil spills. They say the possibilities are limitless.

It is a field of study that is taking off in the skies over South Texas. TAMUCC is leading the effort using an unmanned aircraft as a teaching tool and for research.

The RS 16 is a vast ranchland near Sarita, acting as the training grounds for the researchers.

"I think it's 12-feet 11-inches, seven-feet long, max speed of about 60 knots," said Dr. David Bridges of TAMUCC, the director of the initiative.

Bridges says the goal of the project is to capture images of vegetation, water and roads to use for high-accuracy maps to track things like coastal erosion. The drone will be fitted with a special camera that will use high definition, infrared and ultraviolet technology.

"One of the areas of research is to use that combination to detect oil slicks on the Gulf disaster recovery," Bridges said. "That kind of thing."

Before the drone took to the skies, the crew made several checks, from the plane to the wind conditions. Among those getting hands on experience was Adam Ersepke, a mechanical engineering student at TAMUCC. He hopes what he learns here will help him in the offshore oil industry. He is set to graduate in May.

"The unmanned aircraft is where technology is going these days," Ersepke said. "The options are unlimited, what you can do with these aircraft."

While in the air, the plane is operated through a laptop controlled by its developer, American Aerospace; but once it's time for landing, the UAV is handed over to a man with a good old-fashioned remote control.