Inexpensive Unmanned Aerial Survey Aircraft

Thursday of last week (4 Oct 2012), I spent part of a day with the AggieAir Flying Circus, a Utah State University group that is demonstrating the utility of using inexpensive model airplanes to do aerial survey work.  This research activity was conducted over several irrigated fields near Scipio UT.

USU Staff Preparing the UAV for Takeoff

The unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs) are launched into the air with a sling and their “landing” is a controlled crash.  Their cameras take RBG (standard color), near infrared, and thermal images.  The Scipio flights were designed to demonstrate the utility of using UAVs to assist farmers with improving their crop yield while reducing the demand for water.

Launching the AggieAir Drone

The UAVs last week flew a preprogrammed flight pattern over three adjacent fields.  The local farmer was impressed and anxiously awaited the flight results.  The drones provide aerial survey information on a fast turnaround, at a low cost.

Robert Johnston, President of the Mountain West Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, wrote for the SLTrib ( 2 Sep 2012):

Earlier this year, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to chart a course for the integration of unmanned aircraft into our national airspace by 2015.  As part of its plan, the FAA will establish six test sites where these aircraft will be developed and tested.  Utah is well-positioned to mount a formidable campaign for this destination, which would yield tremendous benefits for our economy.

Utah boasts a strong infrastructure for the unmanned-aviation sector.  Aviation technology programs at the University of Utah, Utah State and BYU are cultivating a talented workforce in the state.  For example, Utah State has used unmanned aircraft to assist the Utah Department of Transportation in road construction projects, efficiently map rivers, wetlands and crops and solve water resource challenges.

And there are many other ways that UAVs can benefit society, including:

  • assisting in fighting fires,
  • helping search-and-rescue teams, and
  • survey damage after natural disasters.
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