North Dakota’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test range may have been first to receive an FAA certificate of authorization (COA), but the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) this week laid claim to the first test-site mission.
On May 5, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced in Anchorage that the agency had granted the university a COA to begin flying the three-pound Aeryon Scout quadcopter at the UAF-managed Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range. “Minutes after the announcement, Scout operator Mike Cook took the aircraft to the sky in Fairbanks, the first test mission flight among the six FAA-chosen test sites,” UAF declared in a press release.
In December, the FAA announced that it had selected universities and other public entities in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia to operate six national UAS test ranges, fulfilling a requirement of Congress in the 2012 FAA reauthorization act. The agency granted a COA to the North Dakota Department of Commerce on April 21 to begin operations at the University of North Dakota-led Northern Plains UAS test range.
UAF has operated unmanned aircraft including the Aeryon Scout and Insitu ScanEagle for research projects since the mid-2000s under FAA authorization, and is home to the Alaska Center for UAS Integration, a research center the University of Alaska Board of Regents established in December 2012. Its Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range proposal to the FAA includes six test sites in Alaska, four in Oregon and three in Hawaii.
The test range’s historic first flight took place at the Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station near the UAF campus. The university is deploying the Scout, built by Aeryon Labs of Waterloo, Canada, in a research project to determine if it can be used to observe large animals without disturbing them. “The birds were noisier than the Aeryon Scout as the mini quadcopter whirred over the caribou lounging in the field,” the university reported. “The Scout climbed to 200 feet as a crowd of about 50 people silently watched its inaugural flight under the gray overcast sky at Fairbanks, Alaska.”