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Drone test flights over South Texas ranchland
CORPUS CHRISTI -- Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center conducted a series of flight missions June 25-26, the first since becoming fully operational as a federally designated test site.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated the center as one of only six test sites in December, and approved it as operational June 20.
In the six months since the test site designation, the Lone Star Center has been preparing to receive private companies and other organizations that want to test and research aircraft, software, or other possible uses for unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones.
The missions will address several of the FAA research goals designed to safely integrate unpiloted aircraft into the national airspace by 2015, including:
•System safety and data gathering as it relates to marine environments;
•Best practices for use of a chase plane that can more efficiently match speed and follow the unmanned aerial vehicle (or drone); and
•Continue refining process of ensuring air traffic control communications between the drone, ground control station, and Mission Control Center in Corpus Christi.
Regulations require that the drone remain under visual contact at all times.
The mission will also gather video, ultraviolet, and thermal image data from the onboard multi-spectral camera for university researchers monitoring coastal habitats and shoreline changes.
Collecting this kind of aerial imagery is vital to research, business, and safety. Areas of use for the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center are likely to include:
•Search-and-rescue missions, surveying disaster areas or accident scenes;
•Mapping coastlines to observe changes over time;
•Inventory of wildlife, habitats, agriculture, and pipelines through remote areas.
The RS-16 is the university’s largest drone, with a wingspan of nearly 13 feet and a maximum weight of 85 pounds. It launches with a pneumatic catapult and lands on its belly in the soft mudflats common in this coastal Texas region.
The university has established a UAS Mission Control Center at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center that will manage the proposed 11 Texas test ranges.
The university will file a report with the FAA within 45 days of the mission, part of the requirements of test site operators.
While the test site designation does not come with federal funding, studies show an anticipated economic impact, once airspace is opened to Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center, would be about $6.5 billion and 8,256 jobs statewide from 2015 to 2025.
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