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As the requirements for commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft systems, known as Part 107, take effect today, the UAS program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is joining a research effort led by PrecisionHawk to assist the Federal Aviation Administration with the next steps in that rule-making process.

Kansas State Polytechnic joined PrecisionHawk, a leading drone data and safety company headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to determine the risk assessment of extended visual line of sight operations of UAS. PrecisionHawk is a part of the FAA’s Pathfinder program, which involves industry partners exploring incremental expansion of UAS operations in the national airspace. Currently, CNN and BNSF Railway are the only other participating entities, with PrecisionHawk specifically tasked with examining UAS flights outside of the pilot’s direct vision in rural areas for crop monitoring in precision agriculture.

See more on PrecisionHawk’s EVLOS Testing!!

“Kansas State Polytechnic is honored to work alongside PrecisionHawk on research that we believe is crucial to the progression of the Part 107 rule and moving the UAS industry in the direction it needs to go,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of the school’s UAS program. “Being able to fly with extended visual line of sight could greatly increase the efficiency and productivity of UAS operations, however, it’s important to ensure this can be done safely and routinely, and our collaboration will provide the FAA with meaningful data to make that determination.”

After establishing a working definition for operational extended visual line of sight, or EVLOS, including an initial measured distance in Pathfinder Phase one, PrecisionHawk connected with Kansas State Polytechnic to collaborate on a series of controlled field experiments over the past several months involving volunteers with varying levels of flight experience. The studies are aimed at calculating an achievable level of safety for drone pilot response time and choice of action when confronted by a manned intruder.

“In extended visual line of sight, a pilot would maintain situational awareness of the airspace he or she is flying in while the actual unmanned aircraft would be just beyond the limits of vision,” said Andi Meyer, Kansas State Polytechnic’s research program manager. “At this distance, it is difficult to see at what direction or altitude the UAS is operating, so it’s imperative a pilot’s intuition and reaction to an incoming aircraft is quick, smart and safe. Research needs to be conducted for the FAA to understand what level of training should be required to fly in EVLOS.”

During the series of experiments conducted on a farm in central Kansas, volunteers are placed at different positions on the acreage with computers that simulate UAS flight operations in EVLOS. Each participant, with experience levels ranging from amateur to hobbyist to certified pilot, maintains awareness of the airspace their simulated UAS is operating in, and when a real manned aircraft flies overhead, they must demonstrate how they would prevent an air-to-air collision.

“Under Part 107, commercial operators are limited to flying with visual line of sight only, and other than a knowledge test, there are no training requirements for pilots,” said Dr. Allison Ferguson, director of airspace research for PrecisionHawk. “The final results of our extended visual line of sight research, which are generalizable to multiple classes of small UAS, will provide a necessary dataset for both regulators and industry stakeholders to establish any required future training, expand Part 107 and most importantly, continue safe operations in the national airspace.”

PrecisionHawk has been working with K-State’s Manhattan campus and its College of Agriculture for the past two and a half years on decision support for crops like corn and soy. Ferguson says PrecisionHawk knew about the university’s UAS program and its reputation of safety, and were waiting on a suitable project to present itself for collaboration.

“Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program has a very good understanding of the existing rules and regulations that govern the national airspace and they excel in research, standards development and airmen training, so the Pathfinder initiative was the perfect project to combine both of our expertise,” said Ferguson.

This phase of the EVLOS research is expected to be complete by the end of the year with a third stage of the project starting up in 2017. As results become available, they are provided to the FAA for consideration.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program, which includes the undergraduate component as well as commercial flight training, program development and research, contact Carraway at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@k-state.edu. To connect with PrecisionHawk about their services and products or to learn more about the Pathfinder program contact info@precisionhawk.com or 844-328-5326.