By Teresa L. Benns
CENTER — After speaking to crowds at Leach Airport, unmanned air systems (UAS) Chief Executive Officer Constantin Diehl conducted a tour of Leach Airfield to explain the various functions of drones being tested July 14-17 and their potential benefit for the Valley.
Current applications for drones include drought assessment and flood forecasting, water conservation and usage, emergency search and rescue operations, property assessment, agricultural uses, GPS mapping and other applications. One roofer in Denver is even using drones to assess roof damage.
Drones in flight delighted the audience and offered a bird’s eye view of just some of their capabilities. Several universities form across the country attended the testing. These included: Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, Oklahoma State University, University of Oklahoma, University of Kentucky, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Kansas State University, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
The National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (including the UAS Program) and National Center for Atmospheric Research representatives also attended the event.
Diehl said what he would like to see for the Valley is for drone operations in the line of site to be able to do more research on the horticulture level. He said UAS is currently working with the Cropduster’s Association to test drone visualization from a small aircraft standpoint in order to work out safety issues.
“If a [drone] crash with a cropduster occurred, it would likely be catastrophic,” he observed. “We hope cropdusters can eventually see them.” He also explained that this can be done with tracking devices, whether GPS or some other type of device.
While it appears to some that drone development is being held up by a failure of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deal with paperwork, “The applications I have requested have been granted in time,” Diehl said. “The industry players are slower; they take longer to put rules in place.”
He said the FAA made a special effort for all those participating at the drone event in Center to receive their timely qualifications to operate.
Diehl pointed to the innerworkings of an ISSARA monitoring station, set up in a van at the field. Technicians monitored the movements of drones at the demonstration on dual computer monitors in the van and received data on their operations.
“We are conducting an intensive study of atmospheric conditions,” Cory Dickson with Colorado University in Boulder explained. The study focused partly on how conditions change from sunrise to sunset and how weather systems develop.
A tower mounted to the outside of the ISARRA van monitored the drone then descending slowly to the ground.
Local student intern
Leighton Burt, who works at his family’s business, Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, is serving an internship with the Cooperative Institute of Research and Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in conjunction with NOAA. Burt’s involvement began while he was in high school, after participating in the Colorado State Science Fair. Research on a drone prototype for use in avalanche rescue led to his receiving the internship.
Burt’s current research involves drones with sensors attached that can fly though smoke, as in forest fires, and detect the particulate type and size, to better inform those fighting the fire. The information helps firefighters determine where the fire is going and how fast it is traveling. With the help of drones, lives could be saved and strategies for mapping fire containment more clearly developed.
Burt says his internship is actually for three years but he is leaving after two years to attend Montana State University, where he plans to study graphic design.