K-State Salina alumni fellow’s unique path to success in unmanned aircraft systems


K-state Salina

Kirk Demuth continues to influence the ever-changing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry, an industry he never expected to be a part of after graduating from Kansas State University Salina.

Demuth credits the education he earned on campus for greatly accelerating his career path.

“I never really took the time to look back at the unusual course I took during my career and how much that reflected at Kansas State University up to this point,” Demuth said. “There is so much that I owe to K-State that got me to where I am today.”

The 2007 K-State Salina alumnus is this year’s College of Technology and Aviation Alumni Fellow. K-State’s Alumni Fellow Program through the K-State Alumni Association brings successful alumni back to campus to meet students and faculty. This exercise allows the alumni fellows to share their expertise in the classroom and in informal settings. Fellows are chosen by each college to return as distinguished guests.

Demuth is currently vice president of operations at Perennial in Boulder, Colorado, where he has led the internal and external operations, data collection and customer delivery teams since 2021. Although Demuth has found great success in the UAS industry, he originally planned to become an airline pilot, earning an associate degree in professional piloting and his bachelor’s degree in technology management while working at K-State Salina.

His career path after graduation has taken many different turns and his goals have changed over the course of his career. Initially, Demuth simply wanted to earn more flying hours to build a career as a pilot. Immediately after graduating, he became a banner pilot flying advertisements in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Those flying hours over beaches helped Demuth land his next job that would ultimately change the course of his career. Demuth worked as a civilian contract pilot for the U.S. Air Force and Army based in California and quickly found a niche in the burgeoning UAS industry. His role at the time was to pilot a pursuit aircraft as the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ over large, unmanned aircraft developed and controlled by the military. Demuth acquired knowledge of the new aviation technology by flying in close formation with and providing air traffic control communications and visually avoiding collisions with other air traffic.

Combined with Demuth’s growing expertise in UAS and K-State Salina’s launch of its own UAS program, Demuth returned to the Salina campus in 2009 as the first-ever program manager. The campus’ current UAS program has been developed over the years based on Demuth’s foresight and knowledge gained from his industry experience.

“When I came back to K-State Salina, there was no UAS program here at the time. I was the first one hired for that,” Demuth said. “I felt that with my previous experience working with the military UAS and gaining insights into UAS operations and regulations, the university would help build this program.”

As part of the Alumni Fellow program, Demuth recently returned to campus to visit with students, faculty and staff. He also had the opportunity to revisit K-State Salina’s UAS program to experience current offerings and hear about plans for the future.

“It’s great to come back and see where this UAS program has grown,” said Demuth, who also serves on the UAS Curriculum Advisory Board at K-State Salina. “Between the new facilities, added training platforms, the number of students in the program, the quality of the professors and the different levels of professional pathways for graduates, it shows how much this program has grown and adapted to what the industry needs. ”

In recent years, Demuth expanded his UAS expertise even further to launch his own company that helped agricultural producers use drone technology and survey fields for crop stressors. The company, RoboFlight Technologies, could then prescribe a variable treatment rate based on the data collected by the drones to help growers with environmental and cost-saving measures. Demuth grew the company before deciding to sell and move to his current position.

With his industry expertise and passion for mentoring, Demuth hopes K-State Salina students will use his time on campus to further develop their professional networks, which will one day support their own careers. From growing up near Ford, Kansas, to traveling the world for his career, Demuth was always willing to adapt.

“I have the opportunity to give back to the overall student body at K-State Salina as a mentor,” Demuth said. “I think it’s important to not get so caught up in just one career path after graduating. It can be very difficult to understand where you want to go and there is a lot you don’t know that you don’t know. Like in my career where I was willing to experiment with UAS and I realized that not only did I have an unknown passion for this technology, but it also gave me the entrepreneurial opportunity to build a business. Find out where you are passionate and pursue that passion because that is where you will find the most success.”