The first unmanned aircraft to make a domestic flight beyond visual line of sight in the United States took off and landed safely under the guidance of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Operators with the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration flew a Skyfront Perimeter unmanned aircraft 3.87 miles last week. ACUASI is run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks out of the Geophysical Institute.
Unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, normally have to travel within sight of the pilot as required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
This flight, which required special permission from the FAA, has been a long-anticipated goal of ACUASI.
“This is part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program which is an FAA and U.S. DOT program, which was started at the behest of President Trump to accelerate the use of unmanned aircraft in Alaska,” ACUASI Director Catherine Cahill said.
Allowing unmanned aircraft to travel beyond visual line of sight is more important to Alaska than other states, Cahill said, because most of Alaska does not have roads; therefore, if unmanned aircraft are allowed to travel more routinely out of view of the pilot, the state could use these flights for a variety of reasons.
Flying medical supplies into fogged-in communities, cargo delivery, search and rescue operations, off-road mammal surveys and pipeline surveillance were all among uses Cahill listed for these types of flights.
The center has a few systems in place to keep track of flights, even when they aren’t within view of the pilot.
“We knew where the aircraft was purely by electronic means,” Cahill said.
One system uses eight Echodyne ground-based radars, which covered the entire flight plan of the aircraft, according to Cahill.
Iris Automation’s Casia, an onboard collision avoidance technology, was also used. The system can notice objects within the aircraft’s path, track them, and, if necessary, make the aircraft take
Cahill said there are plans for similar flights and that the FAA is “encouraging (ACUASI) to do as many as possible.”
The goal is to go greater distances over time, repeatedly make successful flights and be able to prove the safety of flying UAS out of their pilots’ view.
“This is basically a crawl, walk, run — and we crawled,” Cahill said. “For us a run would be flying the entire trans-Alaska pipeline.”
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.