Unmanned Systems News 11/5/2014

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Space Florida Demonstration Draws Crowds, FAA Ire

A Prioria employee preps the Hexacopter to fly. Photo by Robb Cohen.
 By Brett Davis

Nine companies demonstrated the commercial uses of small unmanned aircraft at Space Florida’s Unmanned Systems Demonstration, held at the Kennedy Space Center on 11 May, although Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on crowd size put a damper on the event.

“It’s a revolutionary technology on an evolutionary path,” said AUVSI President and CEO Michael Toscano, speaking at the opening ceremony. “This is a very exciting time, and this is an opportunity to help educate not just the public but the regulatory people and the decision makers on how this technology can improve every aspect of our lives.”

The companies flew helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for spectators, who could also visit static displays at the visitors center and near the field where the aircraft flew. The aircraft conducted mock scenarios such as monitoring crops, searching for missing people and monitoring a disaster area.

The demonstration drew enough of a crowd at the field that spectators, numbering in the hundreds, had to be urged to return to the center to watch it on a monitor, as the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t want so many people near where the systems were flying, although they were well across a field. However, NASA safety officials had flown a small unmanned system indoors just the day before, over visiting crowds including children, with no problems. 

One of the companies flying at the demonstration was PrecisionHawk, which flew its Lancaster Mk. III fixed-wing aircraft.

“We consider ourselves much more of a data company than an aircraft company,” said Pat Loman, speaking with moderator Grant Begley during the demonstration.

The company tailors each mission to the needs of the customer, so its endurance and imagery can differ. A typical crop monitoring mission would involve flying “low and slow” over a field, Loman said.

The company has either gotten certificates of authorization from the FAA for its flights or conducted them overseas.

Prioria Robotics flew two of its systems, its Maveric fixed-wing and its Hexacopter helicopter, conducting a mock search-and-rescue mission.

Other companies that participated in the demonstration included Aeryon Labs with its new SkyRanger vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, Angel Eyes Inc. with its Cyber Quad Maxi VTOL, Aurora Flight Sciences with its Skate fixed wing, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with its AnDrone fixed wing, Elevated Horizons with its Agri6 VTOL, North Carolina State University with its Vireo fixed wing and NV-OS with its N-Cognito fixed wing.