Recent test flights demonstrate unmanned aircraft’s multiple uses

Release Date: 
Friday, October 31, 2008

For Immediate Release

In a series of three flights through restricted airspace in Puget Sound, WA, the University of Alaska’s unmanned aircraft system proved its value to science once again. 

The unmanned aircraft system, or UAS for short, was launched off the top deck of the Oscar Dyson, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, Oct 15-16, 2008. The UAS demonstrated to scientists that it could collect data in remote locales with relative ease. The UAS can fly up to 20 hours at a given time and through inclement weather conditions, factors that are of particular interest to scientists.

NOAA scientists hope to use the technology to study four species of ice-associated seals in Alaska’s Bering Sea in the spring of 2009. By implementing the university’s UAS, seals can be tracked over the ever-changing sea ice in flights that last longer and cover a broader range than manned helicopter flights. In addition to the potential boon in data, the UAS allows scientists’ safety since they will not have to leave the ship from which the UAS is launched.

The university purchased the 40-pound UAS, an Insitu ScanEagle, in 2006. The aircraft is robotic and controlled by an operator through a computerized ground control system. Greg Walker and Don Hampton of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks piloted the system for NOAA during the recent flights.

“The University of Alaska selected this aircraft for our experiments because of its proven ability to operate from areas not accessible to typical aircraft that require a runway,” Walker said. “These flights in Puget Sound from the Dyson demonstrated that capability.”

This recent collaboration with NOAA is just one application of the university’s UAS. In 2007, the aircraft was used to collect images and map wildfire resources in Alaska’s Interior to support efforts of the U.S. Army Alaska Garrison at Fort Wainwright.

Arrangements can be made to accommodate other users’ research by contacting Walker, manager of the University of Alaska Unmanned Aircraft Program and Poker Flat Research Range.

The UAS is based at Poker Flat Research Range.


Greg Walker, UA Unmanned Aircraft Program manager, 907-474-2102,