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UAS launch from Dyson

The NOAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Program achieved a significant milestone on 15-16 October when three successful flights of a UAS were conducted off the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson within restricted airspace in Puget Sound, Washington. The Unmanned Aerial System used was the ScanEagle™, developed by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. 

The ScanEagle was launched from the top deck of the Oscar Dyson using a pneumatic catapult and recovered on a vertical line strung between the starboard crane and a lower boom extended out over the water. A clip at the end of either wing captures the line on contact. The aircraft has a 10-ft wingspan and weighs around 40 pounds when loaded with camera equipment and fuel.  It can fly for 20 hours on 2 gallons of fuel and cruises between 45 and 70 knots.

Because this was the first launch and recovery of a UAS from the Oscar Dyson, great care was taken to prepare for the flights. A test dummy was first launched from the ship and retrieved from the water by a small boat. A test dummy was also hung from the recovery system to provide training and practice for the deck crew who were responsible for safely bringing the aircraft aboard after each flight.

During flight, the ScanEagle was piloted from the ship by trained operators Greg Walker and Don Hampton from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Observers were stationed on the top deck of the ship to keep an eye on the aircraft and alert the pilots in case of any unexpected traffic within the restricted airspace. Communication between the control station and the bridge was also critical, as the ships speed and position in the wind are important elements for both launch and recovery. The officers and crew of the Dyson played an integral role in the success of these test flights.  A member of the U.S. Coast Guard who is researching UAS for possible use in the USCG observed the missions. 

The capability to launch and recover a UAS from the Oscar Dyson is particularly important because the Polar Ecosystems Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle hopes to use this technology to study four species of ice-associated seals in the Bering Sea in spring 2009. Assessing abundance and distribution of animals in the wild is often challenging.  When the animal’s habitat includes the shifting, melting, and always changing sea ice, traditional aerial survey methods become even more complicated.  The UAS is not constrained by some of the limitations of manned helicopters that have been used previously for surveying seals in the ice.  An unmanned system can fly farther from the ship without risking the safety of personnel. It can also fly for 20 hours compared to our standard 2-hour helicopter flights. Using UASs may help us cover more of the Bering Sea ice field in less time, providing a better estimate of seal abundance and distribution. The UAS may also provide opportunities for more frequent surveys so population trends can be monitored more closely.

Over the past 2 years, the Oscar Dyson has transported scientists to the Bering Sea to capture seals on the ice and deploy satellite tags to collect movement and behavior data. We hope that the UAS will expand our scope of operations and increase NOAA’s ability to understand the ecology, distribution and abundance of these important species. Read the news release>

Images and Media Files

UAS Launch UAS Launcher UAS Take Off
UAS Launch Catapult UAS Fitted UAS In Flight
UAS Control UAS Capture Hook UAS Capture
UAS Control Room UAS Capture Hook UAS Recovery Training

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Video Media. May require Flash Player to view.

UAS Launching

UAS Camera View

UAS Recovery

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