Bering Sea flights prove viability of university’s unmanned aircraft

Release Date: 2009-06-15

For Immediate Release

FAIRBANKS, Alaska—Researchers can chalk up another accomplishment for the University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Program. Based on the seal-observing performance of the program’s 40-pound ScanEagles, researchers have learned the aircraft can operate in snow and light icing conditions. This feat enhances the viability of the technology, which has proven useful flying through smoke and fog during previous scientific flights.

The latest mission coupled University of Alaska staff with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unmanned aircraft was launched and flown repeatedly from NOAA’s ship, McArthur II, over a series of 30 days in the central Bering Sea.

“We have 42 hours of good flights behind us on this cruise,” said Greg Walker, manager of the University of Alaska Unmanned Aircraft Program. “I think we have proven the technology meets or exceeds the NOAA expectations for performance and the ability to capture the information they’re seeking.”

The unmanned aircraft was used to survey Bering Sea ice floes for bearded, spotted, ringed and ribbon seals. The ScanEagle flew up to five miles away—as far as the FAA allowed—from the McArthur II during each survey, capturing high-resolution images throughout with an onboard camera. The camera captured more than 25,000 images during the missions.

The unmanned aircraft that took part in these missions belong to the University of Alaska. The university purchased its first ScanEagle “Martha,” in May 2006; it now owns and operates four.

Greg Walker and Don Hampton, both of Poker Flat Research Range, piloted the unmanned aircraft during NOAA’s seal-mapping mission.

The University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Program is based at Poker Flat Research Range, north of

Fairbanks.

PHOTOS AND VIDEO AVAILABLE:
http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/polar/cruise/index.php

Included photo cutline 1: A ribbon seal hauled out on sea ice. The university’s unmanned aircraft captured this image during a mission in the central Bering Sea on June 6, 2009. Photo courtesy Greg Walker. Photo cutline 2: A ScanEagle unmanned aircraft takes off from the NOAA ship McArthur II during a campaign to locate and capture images of seals in the Bering Sea. Photo courtesy Greg Walker.

CONTACT:
Greg Walker: Unmanned Aircraft Program Manager/Poker Flat Research Range Manager, 907 474-2102.
Don Hampton: Optical Science Manager, Poker Flat Research Range, 907-474-2256.
Geophysical Institute Information Office: 907-474-7468.