Insitu Pacific, the Australian subsidiary of U.S.-based Insitu Inc., has concluded the second phase of a landmark trial conducted in partnership with Murdoch University that aims to determine if unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are a cost-effective, capable alternative to manned assets for surveying marine mammals.
During the two-week operation, Insitu Pacific’s ScanEagle UAS captured up to 3,000 images of humpback whales daily. The trial also demonstrated ScanEagle’s ability to operate effectively in Class G commercial airspace, a key step toward expanding civil airspace to incorporate unmanned systems more widely, according to company officials.
“Flying for a long time, at a low altitude, well off the coast is a high-risk mission for a manned aircraft. Unmanned systems offer an alternative,” says Insitu Pacific Managing Director Andrew Duggan. “ScanEagle is not only safer than manned aircraft for monitoring mammals, it is also environmentally friendlier. Fuel consumption is an order of magnitude less than manned aircraft.” ScanEagle can fly for more than 24 hours at a time on less than five quarts of fuel, he noted.
The runway-independent ScanEagle aircraft was launched, controlled and retrieved from North Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. A high-resolution digital still camera was fitted alongside a typical ScanEagle electro-optic payload. Previous field trials in October 2010 were conducted in Western Australia.
Insitu, located in Bingen, Wash., is a Boeing subsidiary that designs, develops and manufactures UAS and provides associated services for commercial, civil and defense applications. For more information: Insitu.com