UK Granted Permission to Conduct Drone-based Research Nationwide

The University of Kentucky has received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct research with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, nationwide, following FAA regulations.

"UK is among the first universities in the country to receive this new FAA 'blanket' CoA," said Suzanne Smith, director of the UK Unmanned Systems Research Consortium and the Donald and Gertrude Lester Professor of Mechanical Engineering. "Now, UK faculty will be among the first to perform and publish their research on leading-edge autonomy technologies and applications, and the new scientific discoveries that are sure to result."

The FAA's public Certificate of Authorization (CoA) allows UK researchers to fly drones that are less than 55 pounds up to 400 feet and less than 100 mph at sites across the U.S., away from airports and under other FAA procedures. UK is currently reviewing its guidelines with respect to drones on campus.

Procedures for those flying under the CoA include registering the UAS; issuing a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) 24 hours prior to flights; having a certified pilot overseeing all flights along with trained visual observers; following safety procedures; maintaining a logbook; and submitting monthly reports.

Researchers across a range of disciplines will now be allowed to conduct flights, including mining, precision agriculture, atmospheric science, and transportation — all areas of significance for Kentucky and the nation — at their respective research sites.

"For example, researchers in transportation can conduct bridge inspection research for all but a handful of the 11,000 bridges in Kentucky at this altitude," Smith said.

UK researchers also continue to increase their UAS-based research collaborations across the nation. This summer, UAS-based mining research led by College of Engineering Professor Braden Lusk will be conducted in West Virginia and Wyoming. The three-state, four-university CLOUDMAP program, funded by the National Science Foundation to research atmospheric science and led at UK by Michael SamaJesse HoaggSean BaileyMarcelo Guzman and Smith, will be conducted in Kentucky and Oklahoma. Other projects, such as Elk research in Robinson Forest, as well as geological and transportation research across Kentucky, are in the planning stages.

"This type of research could not be accomplished without the support of many individuals campuswide," Smith said. "And the researchers are very grateful."

To fly previously, UK researchers had to submit a separate application for each aircraft/location/flight-plan combination. Each application required multiple parts and could take three to nine months or more to process.  

UK researchers who would like information should email Suzanne Smith at suzanne.smith@uky.edu or Ryan Nolin at ryan.nolin@uky.edu.

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