Drone research continues with South Texas test flights

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi continues its preparations to be fully operational as one of only six federal test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with another series of test flight missions planned for the week of March 10 in South Texas ranchland.

Researchers will run missions twice a day with the university’s RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and another UAV on loan from American Aerospace Advisors, a Pennsylvania-based company that helped the university customize its RS-16 and often provides mission command personnel during test flights.

The second UAV has a different set of specialized equipment the university will be testing, officials said,  noting the two UAVs will not fly at the same time.

The university’s Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation was selected by the FAA as a test site in December.

A&M-Corpus Christi has an established UAS program, including extensive airspace authorized by the FAA for UAS operations. The university also has established a UAS Mission Control Center at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center that will manage the 11 Texas test ranges.

While the test site designation does not come with federal funding, recent studies show an anticipated economic impact of $8 billion statewide, and $260 million in South Texas over the next 10 years, creating about 1,200 jobs, university officials said.

During the missions next week, the UAV will launch from a mobile operations center, fly east out of sight of ground observers, and will be monitored by a manned aircraft as it flies over Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Regulations require that the drone remain under visual contact at all times.

Researchers will also continue training with the onboard multi-spectral camera that acquires video, ultraviolet and thermal images that can be used for mapping sea grass, monitoring pipeline routes, detecting wildfires hotspots or oil spills in the ocean, and counting livestock.

During the missions, the Mission Control Center in Corpus Christi will continue development of the technology to track, monitor, and receive streaming video from the UAV and the mobile operations center at the launch site.

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