Drones Put to the Test as New South Texas FAA Test Site Prepares for Operation

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi researchers have been conducting missions twice a day with the University’s RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and another UAV owned by American Aerospace Advisors. Another series of test flight missions this week over South Texas ranchland.

The university’s Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation — which will open soon – is one of six federal drone testing sites that were selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December.

The university said the FAA’s designation is expected to bring other UAS researchers to Texas, and anticipates an economic impact of $8 billion statewide, and $260 million in South Texas over the next 10 years; creating about 1,200 jobs.

The UAVs pilots are on the ground controlling and monitoring the UAVs. The flights last about two hours, flying over the coastline and collecting data for university researchers that can be used for mapping sea grass, monitoring pipeline routes, detecting wildfires hotspots or oil spills in the ocean and counting livestock.

“With each test flight, we are building on our own research data that can lead to conclusions on the best ways to safely integrate UAS into our national airspace,” said Dr. David Bridges, director of UAS Program.

At the mission control center in Corpus Christi, technicians with Camber Corporation, one of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s 15 partners in this test site, are working to refine and improve capabilities to track, monitor and receive streaming video from the UAVs and the mobile operations center at the launch site.

“All of the technology we are packing into mission control is up and communicating clearly with the operations at the ranch launch site,” said Dr. Ron George, senior research development officer. “We’ll be open for business soon.”

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