Saturday, July 27, 2013

One Giant Leap For Unmanned-Kind, FAA Approves Two New Drones For Domestic Flyovers

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued restricted category type certificates to a pair of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a milestone that will lead to the first approved commercial UAS operations later this summer.

The newly certified UAS—Insitu’s Scan Eagle X200 and AeroVironment’s PUMA—are “small” UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. Each is about 4 ½ feet long, with wingspans of ten and nine feet, respectively.

When Insitu first supported the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004 combat operations, ScanEagle offered a choice of either industry-leading electro-optic (EO) or long-wave infrared (LWIR) imagers. Over the years, Insitu added to that. Today the field-configurable NightEagle™ variant of ScanEagle carries a mid-wave infrared imager (MWIR) for daylight-quality infrared imagery, and a dual-bay option lets customers carry both EO and LWIR imagers at once.
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The major advantage of having type-certificated UAS models available is that they can be used commercially. The Scan Eagle and PUMA received Restricted Category type certificates that permit aerial surveillance. Until now, obtaining an experimental airworthiness certificate – which specifically excludes commercial operations—was the only way the private sector could operate UAS in the nation’s airspace. 

AeroVironment’s PUMA
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 Previous military acceptance of the Scan Eagle and PUMA UAS designs allowed the FAA to issue the Restricted Category type certificates.

A major energy company plans to fly the ScanEagle off the Alaska coast in international waters starting in August. Plans for the initial ship-launched flights include surveys of ocean ice floes and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas. The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for oil spill monitoring and wildlife surveillance over the Beaufort Sea.

Issuing the type certificates is an important step toward the FAA’s goal of integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace. These flights will also meet requirements in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that define Arctic operational areas and include a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations.

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