CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC) is expanding operations, with test-flight missions this week from an airport in Port Mansfield.
Researchers are scheduled to run missions each day through Friday with the university’s RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Operations will be based at the Charles R. Johnson Airport, operated by the Willacy County Navigation District.
“Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Lone Star UAS Center are excited to be expanding our operations and capacities for UAS testing for operation and development,” said Dr. Luis Cifuentes, Interim Executive Director of the Lone Star UAS Center and the University’s Vice President for Research, Commercialization and Outreach. “Now aircraft with landing gear that need a landing strip can test and fly with our center.”
The RS-16 is the university’s largest UAV, with a wingspan of nearly 13 feet and a maximum weight of 85 pounds. It launches with a pneumatic catapult and lands on its belly.
The mission will gather video, ultraviolet and thermal image data from an onboard multi-spectral camera for a private-sector company, the first non-university entity to test with the Lone Star UAS Center. The company and details of its testing are confidential, according to university officials.
The upcoming missions will address several of the FAA research goals designed to integrate remotely piloted aircraft into the national airspace by 2015, including:
- air traffic control and communications as it relates to the new range, including developing protocols for dealing with runway in use by piloted craft;
- best practices for use of a chase plane that can more efficiently match speed and follow the UAV; and
- continue refining process of ensuring air traffic control communications between UAV, ground control station and Mission Control Center in Corpus Christi.
During these missions, the UAV will be monitored by a piloted aircraft as it flies. Regulations require that the drone remain under visual contact at all times.
The university will file a report with the FAA, part of the requirements of test site operators.
The Port Mansfield range, which is a 45-minute drive from Harlingen, Texas, is adjacent to another approved range south of Corpus Christi near Sarita, Texas, where the university regularly flies its 13-foot-wingspan RS-16.
Since the test site designation in December, the Lone Star Center has received inquiries from more than 60 private-sector companies and other government agencies that want to test and research aircraft, software or other possible uses for unmanned aircraft, commonly referred to as drones.
While the test site designation does not come with federal funding, studies show an anticipated economic impact, once airspace is opened to UAS, would be about $6.5 billion and 8,256 jobs statewide from 2015 to 2025, university officials said.
The successful FAA test site proposal was a team effort among A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, Camber Corporation, the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute, the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, and other research institutions and private-sector companies.
For more information: tamucc.edu