Science and Technology News

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NOAA Unmanned Aerial Systems

by Senior Airman Shandresha Mitchell
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

6/6/2013 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aircraft Operations Center is most often associated with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters, many other important missions are also conducted from MacDill, especially with the new addition of Unmanned Aerial Systems.

"The arrival of Unmanned Aerial Systems marks a definite transition into the next generation of aviation platforms that are becoming available to the public and civil sectors," said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Mansour, AOC's UAS section chief.

The missions of the UAS include marine mammal surveys, sea bird surveys, marine debris and living marine resources.

While NOAA is in the early phases of conducting UAS operations, platforms such as Global Hawk, PUMA All-Environment, Quadrocopter and Hexacopter are being demonstrated and analyzed for their use in collecting environmental intelligence.

Masour explained that "NOAA is relatively new to the UAS spectrum; we are rapidly gaining experience assisting with our federal partners in understanding what the systems are capable of, and also obtaining a proficiency in using the technology appropriately. The opportunity to leverage the unique capabilities of the UAS is truly exciting."

As of now, NOAA AOC has three UAS. The fixed wing PUMA A-E is a battery powered UAS capable of flying up to 10,000 ft. It gives a bird's-eye view of areas of interest and is used for sensitive studies that are problematic to low flying manned aircraft. To date, the PUMA A-E platform has been utilized more than any UAS in NOAA's inventory.

"The PUMA A-E provides our scientists access to an aerial asset for data collection in remote locations and in unfavorable conditions where normally it is very difficult to operate manned aircraft," said Lt. (JG) Tanner Sims, AOC PUMA program manager.

Aside from fixed-wing operations, Vertical Takeoff and Landing platforms are becoming more frequently requested by principal investigators. The Quadrocopter and the Hexacopter are used for rugged terrain and rough sea patches. They can hover for long periods of time to photograph areas of interest.

"With such excellent stability and handling characteristics, the Quadrocopter and the Hexacopter can move almost silently in tight operating areas, making them ideal for projects ranging from marine mammal observations to disaster site monitoring after natural disasters," said Lt. Chris Daniels, AOC UAS VTOL manager.

Another UAS VTOL asset is the WMD59.

"I created a NOAA asset for a NOAA demand," said Mark Rogers, AOC UAS lead technician.

Rogers built the WMD59 as an on-base trainer for the Quadrocopter. The WMD59 helps improve the proficiency in controlling VTOL and their platforms. It will assist the AOC UAS section in meeting the requirements for targets that require VTOL.

"NOAA's AOC will continue to pair the right aerial platform to meet the mission requirements and exceed customer expectations," Mansour said. "It is my job to work with my team of federal, state and local partners to enable scientific research, promote safety and ensure that we coordinate the right assets to every mission.

"It is very gratifying to use cutting-edge technology to help the population at large understand what our planet is doing, how it is impacting our lives and what options we have to protect it."

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