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Unmanned Aircraft Test Flights Completed at Oliktok Point

In October 2012, a small flight team including staff from New Mexico State University (NMSU) and Sandia began the first in a series of test flights for the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Facility to evaluate various unmanned aerial systems (UASs) in the frigid Arctic conditions at Oliktok Point, Alaska. For eight days, the team conducted and documented short flights by a small unmanned aircraft, a microhelicopter, and a tethered balloon. Sandia crew members included Fred Helsel, Bob Cook, Dan Lucero, Larry Yellowhorse, Jeff Zirzow, Darin Desilets, Mark Ivey (all from the Geophysics and Atmospheric Science Dept.) and Jerry Peace.

The BAT system consists of a fully autonomous GPS-guided UAS with a 6 ft wingspan, a catapult launcher, ground station with mission planning and flight software, and telemetry system. The BAT is launched off a catapult and is capable of manual or autonomous landing.

The group started with a short flight by a “Bat-3” near the hangar area, followed by several slightly longer flights, including one out over the ocean for a brief time. This portable, medium-range, fixed-wing UAS can operate autonomously for up to 6 hours at a time, with an operational altitude of around 500 to 1500 feet above ground level. The aircraft can send and receive data up to 10 miles away to deliver high-quality video imagery using color and infrared cameras.

The team also tested an Aeryon Scout micro-UAV™ (quadcopter) completing more than 10 test flights within the designated Restricted Area, R2204, located at Oliktok Point. Weighing less than 3 pounds, it can be airborne in seconds after unpacking from a small case or backpack. A quadcopter is one option under consideration for deployment of radar retro-reflectors, essential for radar calibration.

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