UAVs helping U.S. Bureau of land management

August 21, 2013
Aug. 21, 2013, Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) uses unmanned aircraft for a variety of missions, with a focus on monitoring and mitigating wildfires.

Lance Brady, the director of BLM unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, discussed the agency’s uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference in Washington, D.C. last week.

Brady emphasized that the agency only deploys its UAS assets when necessary. “Sometimes there are gaps in satellite images . . . and manned aircraft face issues of flight length and safety,” he said. BLM evaluates whether or not to use a UAV asset after it receives a request from a local BLM branch. The agency then enters a formal review process where it evaluates the requested mission to ensure a UAV is the most appropriate asset to use, develops the necessary documents to fly the aircraft in the NAS, receives spectrum approval from the military, and finally is issued a mission-specific certificate of authorization (COA) from the FAA.

BLM use of UAVs falls under a previously authorized military program where the agency receives retired military equipment for use in BLM operations (this is why military spectrum approval is required). The agency currently utilizes RQ-11A Raven and RQ-16 T-Hawk fixed-wing UAVs.

The aircraft are used to track wildfires, monitor hot spots, and complete a variety of climate studies. BLM is currently in the process of signing an agreement with the FAA to allow the agency to fly UAVs without going through the lengthy process of requesting a COA.

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