FAA grants increased drone flight permissions to Kansas State University

Aug. 21, 2020
The new waiver also allows for drone piloting from mobile command centers.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, Kansas State University gains new federal permissions for drone flights, drones assist with oil spill cleanup, and a NASA contract sparks advanced air mobility development in New York State.

K-State Polytechnic campus receives waiver to fly UAS BVLOS in all class G airspace nationwide

The FAA has granted Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus’ Applied Aviation Research Center a new waiver that permits K-State Polytechnic to fly UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), in all Class G airspace nationwide.

A majority of UAS flights take place in Class G airspace, which will allow K-State Polytechnic and the Applied Aviation Research Center to enhance research, education and training opportunities.

The new waiver also permits the remote pilot in command to fly from a mobile command center, providing a controlled environment that is distraction-free and out of the elements. This environment also allows a pilot to monitor the live UAS feed as well as the weather, manned traffic, telemetry feed and more.

According to K-State, this type of training situation will provide students with experience “highly sought after in the UAS industry,” as well as valuable training experience for professionals in public safety, emergency response, and more. This waiver will also allow K-State Polytechnic to continue research operations that move the industry forward, the university says.

“Kansas State Polytechnic's dedication toward its students is evident with the approval of this latest BVLOS waiver,” says Spencer Schrader, UAS flight instructor at K-State Polytechnic and author of the waiver request submitted to the FAA.

“Both for-credit and noncredit students will benefit from the advantages of this waiver, providing them experience with operations that are highly limited within the current regulatory framework of Part 107.”

A member of the Kansas UAS Joint Task Force, K-State Polytechnic became the first university in the nation to receive a BVLOS waiver from the FAA in 2018, which grants them permission to fly beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot and visual observers in a single location. K-State Polytechnic is also a partner of the Kansas Department of Transportation, which is one of the nine entities nationwide a part of the FAA's UAS Integrated Pilot Program.

“We are committed to continually evolving our UAS program to ensure our students are prepared to enter the UAS industry with a broad range of relevant experience,” says Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center and department head of the program.

“This waiver allows us to train the way our industry partners want their pilots to operate. I am proud of our ability to conduct thorough operational risk assessments and articulate those into safety cases, such as this, to garner FAA approval for advanced UAS operations.”

Wedding drone pilots on Indian Ocean island of Mauritius help with oil spill cleanup effort

Over the last decade, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius has built a volunteer squadron of wedding drones. The island’s wedding drone pilots have now mobilized themselves to help with a massive volunteer effort taking place on the island in support of the cleanup operations of a massive oil spill in one of its most pristine lagoons.

On July 25, MV Wakashio, a large, Japanese iron ore carrier, plowed into a reef just over one mile off the main coast of Mauritius on the largest barrier reef of Mauritius in the pristine Southeast corner of the island. 

On Aug 6., the MV Wakashio split and began leaking oil after being dragged across the reef for well over 700 meters over the course of 12 days. As of Saturday, Aug. 15, the carrier was close to fully separating into two. 

Being that it does not have a Navy or Air Force, Mauritius relies on its police and National Coastguard planes, helicopters and patrol vessels, such as the MCGS Barracuda, which is now patrolling just South of the crash site as of Aug. 15. As a result, the hyper local aerial footage of the spill would not be possible in a live and dynamic situation with the large, manned aircraft resources devoted solely around the vessel.

Drone pilots have utilized their experience and skills piloting drones during weddings and kitesurf competitions off the coast of Mauritius to help identify areas where the black or filmy residue of the oil spill may be heading. This helps the coordination efforts with an on the ground army of volunteers who are fighting to save Mauritius’ beaches and villages along one of the most unspoiled regions of the country. 

Oneida County, New York awarded task order for Advanced Air Mobility development

Through a NASA contract with its UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport, Oneida County, New York has been awarded an $897,000 task order for Advanced Air Mobility development.

To support high-density vertiport operations that allow for vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the county’s UAS test site, which is one of just seven sanctioned UAS test sites by the FAA in the U.S., will conduct research in automation technology for NASA.

“Oneida County’s long-standing partnership with NASA has proven to be a productive one,” says Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., who announced the award.

“Together, we have conducted crucial research that has led to transformative advancements in the UAS industry. I look forward to the impact this new collaboration will have on the future of this emerging technology.”

The task order is part of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate Integrated Aviation Systems Program Advanced Air Mobility Project. According to Oneida County, the work conducted will help support the project in a variety of areas, including understanding barriers to the operation of vertiports, developing infrastructure requirements needed to increase their scale and maturing automation technologies to support the growth of their traffic.

The task will also help mature testing range requirements for the Advanced Air Mobility national campaign series. The series expects to host future events that highlight high-volume vertiport operations for passenger-carrying electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) operations.

The goal of the research is to develop technology that will support safe, secure, resilient and efficient heavy-lift UAS cargo delivery and passenger carrying.

Expected to be executed over the next year, the task is the latest in a line of orders from NASA. As a result, more work is expected to be awarded.

“This new NASA task order has positioned Oneida County to be the leader in Advanced Air Mobility development,” says Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Chad Lawrence. “It is a testament to the high quality of work conducted by our UAS Test Site and its partners.”

Compiled by Brian Sprowl, Associate Editor, AUVSI

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