On Tuesday, 9 June 2015, the culmination of over 16 months of preparation resulted in a landmark Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flight by Utah Valley University’s Aviation Sciences program. Tom Sturtevant, Interim Dean of the College of Aviation and Public Services (CAPS) and Ground Control Station operator for Tuesday’s flight, stated “This flight may not have been as historic as the Wright Brothers’ first flight, but it was just as exciting and a huge milestone for the Aviation Sciences Program, CAPS, and UVU.”
UAS are becoming a regular part of our daily lives. They are becoming integrated into police, firefighting, and other public services. As UAS become more mainstream, the FAA has become more restrictive on the rules to operate these systems, since the impact they have on our nation’s airspace is potentially very hazardous. Although much smaller than most aircraft, UAS require the same level of management, planning, and maintenance to safely fly in and around other aircraft in our already crowded skies.
Aviation Sciences Director of Safety, and Mission Commander for Tuesday’s flight, Russ Hopkinson has spent over a year just coordinating all the legal, procedural, and airspace integration with the FAA so UVU could legally fly its vehicle under a Certificate of Authorization (COA). A COA allows UVU to legally operate its vehicle in defined public airspace. Hopkinson explains, “Each flight must be planned just like a real aircraft carrying passengers.” The local and regional air traffic controllers must be notified and the air space must be reserved so other pilots can avoid the test area. There are relatively few COAs authorized around the country, so UVU has broken ground as a leader in this field and is trusted by the FAA to safely conduct these flight tests using unmanned vehicles.
The FAA requires the UAS pilots and observer to be “current and qualified” per FAA and COA regulations. This means that Mario Markides, Flight Center Director and pilot of the first UAS flight, along with Scyler Gale, the Aviation Sciences records specialist and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) for UVU who performed the “observer” duties, are required to be current certificated pilots and have a current class II flight medical. The FAA takes UAS operations seriously and only allows those organizations and individuals who show discipline and competency the opportunity to fly these vehicles in and around people, property, and aircraft in the national airspace. UVU is one of those trusted organizations pressing forward with this amazing technology. UAS are part of UVU’s future as they cross many disciplines found at UVU.
UVU graduates of the future will find themselves engaged in current technology innovations by taking UAS classes in many of UVU’s colleges and schools. Unmanned systems are not only becoming a critical part of public services, they are also becoming essential to realtors as they market properties, farmers as they monitor large acreages of their crops and herds, utility companies as they inspect power lines and pipelines in difficult and inaccessible places, and in the entertainment industry as part of filmmaking. UVU continues to be on the leading edge of technology and the Aviation Sciences program continues to lead that effort. Students and citizens will benefit from UVU’s push for expanding this critical and ever-important segment of our aviation-based world.
Russell Hopkinson, Director of Safety
Utah Valley University, Aviation Sciences