The Next Big Thing in Aerospace

Pete CodellaNews

Over 50 years have passed since the first American blasted into space, but the same feeling of innovation and change is in the air with the development of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently considering Utah as a location for one of six test sites it will establish in the coming year to develop regulatory standards to foster UAS technology and operational procedures. The research done at the test sites will provide necessary data to eventually permit routine UAS operations in the national airspace system (NAS). If the state is selected by the FAA, hundreds of jobs will be created and millions of dollars will be invested in Utah. The FAA plans to announce its selections for test site locations by the end of December, 2013.

Unmanned aerial systems have been hailed as the biggest thing since the Wright brothers invented and built the world’s first successful airplane. A UAS is comprised of an unmanned aircraft and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft. Coming in all shapes and sizes, unmanned aircrafts have the potential to improve the quality of life for people around the world.

Proposed uses for UAS range from agriculture and forestry to TV and film production. This technology is relatively new, which means all of the uses for UAS have yet to be discovered. There is potential for UAS to commercially transport goods as well as deliver resources to people that have up to now been too difficult or unsafe to reach. As the technology continues to develop, UAS will save lives and make tasks more efficient.

Firefighting is an example of a way UAS will improve safety. When firefighters arrive on the scene of a fire, they first try to assess the magnitude of the job they have ahead. Valuable minutes begin to tick away as they organize their resources. In the past, first responders had to wait for a helicopter to be loaded and in the air before they could get an aerial view of the raging fire. Now, however, it takes mere minutes for a compact unmanned vehicle to enter the sky and assess the scene.

Switch gears to a peaceful farm in the Midwest boasting hundreds of acres of land. Traveling through the massive area to observe the progress of crops takes precious time and energy from farmers. With UAS, one small aircraft can collect images that can be used to monitor crop health, detect nutrient deficiencies, assess food or drought damage, monitor wildlife and locate livestock in distant pastures. With this new technology, farmers are better equipped to make strategic decisions and manage their farms more effectively.

Unmanned aerial systems will impact citizens of the world, but also have the potential to greatly impact Utah at the state level. Utah has a rich history in the aerospace industry, which currently employs over 10,000 residents.

“Utah is uniquely positioned to be the preeminent UAS test site, capable of providing the FAA with the total environment with which to test and evaluate Unmanned Systems which will enable the FAA to safely and responsibly integrate them into the National Airspace System,” said Marshall Wright, aerospace and defense cluster director for GOED.

To competitively enter the UAS market, the state partnered with five Utah universities: Utah Valley University (UVU), University of Utah (U of U), Utah State University (USU), Weber State University (WSU) and Brigham Young University (BYU). Utilizing the strengths from this diverse set of schools, and an economic development commitment to establish and sustain the sites, state researchers were able to describe their unique expertise in unmanned aerial systems technology and excellence, unparalleled by any other state, giving it a competitive edge in this exciting, expanding industry segment.

UAS are part of Utah’s rich aerospace legacy and will continue to be part of its future moving forward. With its responsive infrastructure, research partnerships, and diverse terrain and climate, the state has positioned itself to be at the forefront of the development of this budding technology. The state is taking its tagline, “life elevated,” to a whole new level.