The University of Kentucky (UK) has joined a few select universities in the nation receiving authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct research with unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The Certification of Authorization (CoA) from the FAA gives UK permission to fly small drones weighing less than 55 pounds. Users must follow FAA procedures, including keeping the drones away from airports, registering UAS, following safety procedures, maintaining a logbook, submitting monthly reports, issuing a Notice to Airmen 24 hours prior to flights, and having a certified pilot overseeing all flights.
Prior to receiving the CoA, UK researchers had to submit a separate application for each aircraft/location/flight-plan combination. Each application required multiple parts and could take three to nine months or more to process.
“UK is among the first universities in the country to receive this new FAA ‘blanket’ CoA,” said Suzanne Smith, director of the UK Unmanned Systems Research Consortium and the Donald and Gertrude Lester Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “Now, UK faculty will be among the first to perform and publish their research on leading-edge autonomy technologies and applications, and the new scientific discoveries that are sure to result.”
Researchers across a range of disciplines will now be allowed to conduct flights, including mining, precision agriculture, atmospheric science, and transportation — all areas of significance for Kentucky and the nation — at their respective research sites.
“For example, researchers in transportation can conduct bridge inspection research for all but a handful of the 11,000 bridges in Kentucky at this altitude,” Smith said.
UK researchers are continuing to increase their UAS-based research collaborations across the nation. This summer, UAS-based mining research led by College of Engineering Professor Braden Lusk will be conducted in West Virginia and Wyoming. The three-state, four-university CLOUDMAP program, funded by the National Science Foundation to research atmospheric science and led at UK by Michael Sama, Jesse Hoagg, Sean Bailey, Marcelo Guzman and Smith, will be conducted in Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Other projects, such as Elk research in Robinson Forest, as well as geological and transportation research across Kentucky, are in the planning stages.
“This type of research could not be accomplished without the support of many individuals campuswide,” Smith said. “And the researchers are very grateful.”