On Sunday May 11 nine small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) strutted their stuff in a hot, grassy field at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about an hour’s drive away on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The demonstration of how small drones can operate safely in a confined space was jointly sponsored by AUVSI and Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for the aerospace industry. Both groups also wanted to show that small unmanned aircraft – which are barred from being flown for commercial operations – can be useful and safe in a number of endeavors.
The demonstration included four research scenarios: crop health monitoring, searching for a lost or injured person, monitoring mock wildfire and disaster scenes. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for air safety and integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace in the near future, kept most spectators far back from the demo area and the tents and trailers housing the small drones. The crowd, which at times numbered in the hundreds, could watch both the unmanned aircraft and video being transmitted from the small aircraft on large TV screens.
The aircraft participating included a six-rotor mini helicopter – also called a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft (photo at left) operated by Florida-based Elevated Horizons. The company does aerial imaging, data collection and site surveys for a number of businesses – especially agriculture. Company executive Ty Rozier (pictured above) said one of their biggest customers was Dole’s fruit-growing operations in Costa Rica. “There are lots of local farmers who want to use our stuff but unfortunately you can’t do it” because of FAA restrictions.
Many unmanned systems makers these days are shifting products originally developed for the military toward the business and first responder markets. “We started in the military and we’ve moved into the commercial, industrial and public safety sector,” said Cameron Waite, North American sales directors for Aeryon Labs. The Canadian company flew its SkyRanger mini helicopter in the demonstration. The SkyRanger is a newer version of the Aeryon’s Scout quadcopter, which was the first UAS to fly from one of the six drone test sites designated by the FAA for developing ways to integrate UAS into the national airspace.