Airport management, UAS students place second in national airport design competition

By Julee Cobb

Airport management and unmanned aircraft systems students at the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus performed a proof of concept at the Kit Carson County Airport as part of their research proposal, “Airport Imagery and Geospatial Data Collection Through the Use of UAS,” which placed second in the Airport Cooperative Research Program’s national University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs. From left to right: Daniel Melia, Kit Carson County Airport manager; Hsin Huang, senior in airport management; Preston Renfro, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in unmanned aircraft systems; Ian Bonsall, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in airport management; Trevor Witt, data analyst in the Applied Aviation Research Center; David Burchfield, UAS teaching assistant professor and degree option coordinator; Chris Senn, UAS teaching assistant professor; and Elliot Rogers, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in airport management.

Airport management and unmanned aircraft systems students from the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus are receiving national recognition for their interdisciplinary research on a current airport industry challenge.

The Airport Cooperative Research Program, which is managed by the Transportation Research Board and sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, has selected the team of Kansas State Polytechnic students as second place winners in its annual University Design Competition for Addressing Airport Needs. The five students submitted a project examining an alternative to typical aerial data collection methods at airports titled, “Airport Imagery and Geospatial Data Collection Through the Use of UAS.”

The contest, now in its 11th year, invites collegiate students from across the country to propose innovative designs and practical solutions to various airport issues facing the industry today. All of the proposals, which do not have to originate from an aviation-related degree program, were entered into one of four categories in the competition — Airport Operation and Maintenance, Runway Safety/Runway Incursions/Runway Excursions, Airport Environmental Interactions, and Airport Management and Planning — and awards went to the top three schools of each group. Kansas State Polytechnic took second in the Airport Operation and Maintenance category behind Tufts University.

“This is the first time that any K-State student has entered the ACRP competition, so taking home second place is quite an honor and it reflects strongly on our students’ work ethic, ambitious ideas and ability to problem solve,” said Tara Harl, airport management associate professor and option coordinator at Kansas State Polytechnic. “I think the award also demonstrates the caliber of rigor that the airport management and UAS curriculum provides, giving students the opportunity to engage in real-world projects and gain multiple perspectives by collaborating between majors.”

The research project began when Harl and her counterpart in the UAS degree option decided to merge one of their upper level project-based courses so students could gain a better understanding of each other’s fields of study and how they connect in industry. Four airport management students and one UAS student formed a team and decided to explore if unmanned aircraft are a viable supplement to an airport’s current means of gathering aerial data.

According to the students’ initial analysis, airports use aerial imagery and geospatial data to create an Airport Layout Plan. This blueprint is an in-depth look at the airport’s property and aids in future development and improvement decisions. Images taken overhead also can help in building topography maps that show elevation differences and where issues such as puddling can occur on runways. Generally, aerial data is collected through satellite imagery, light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, or manned aircraft, and the work is usually hired out to third party consultants. As a result of this information, the students wanted to test the idea that unmanned aircraft could be a substitute in that process and possibly make it more cost effective and more efficient.

The students went on to perform a literature review and develop a problem-solving approach. Next, the Kit Carson County Airport in Burlington, Colorado, gave the students permission to use its property to complete a proof-of-concept operation at an active airport. Before flying, the team of students along with faculty members and the Kit Carson airport manager, Daniel Melia, conducted a safety risk assessment. Then, the group surveyed 550 acres of the airport’s property with three unmanned aircraft and captured 2,900 images total, which were later processed into maps in the campus’s UAS lab. The students also interviewed professionals in the industry who provided cost data for the current process and compared it with the team’s sample incurred costs, which yielded significant savings.

At the end of the project, the team of students concluded in its proposal that airport operators can run into high costs trying to obtain updated aerial photography and data collection, and in turn, resign to using old and inaccurate layout plans. The students said industry professionals have identified a need for a lower cost option, especially for quick and small area projects. They said their research successfully demonstrates that UAS technology could be integrated into the data collection process at airports and provide an on-demand option that reduces both cost and risk.

Along with a second-place win, the project also provided students an opportunity to learn how the two worlds of manned and unmanned aviation can safely merge — something David Burchfield, UAS teaching assistant professor, said is imperative in the industry and the classroom.

“The more UAS become integrated into the National Airspace System, the more airports are going to have to know how to accommodate unmanned operations in their airspace and unmanned pilots need to be sensitive to FAA rules about flying near airports,” said Burchfield, who is also the option coordinator for the UAS degree. “This is something we want our students to be proficient in and that’s why we are creating these interdisciplinary learning opportunities. Whenever degrees cross paths with each other, students are exposed to new and relevant ideas that will help them grow academically and become more prepared in their profession.”

“Collaborating with another degree option on this project transformed our education from sitting in a classroom talking about what would be cool to do to executing a project that could make an impact on the airport community,” said Elliot Rogers, a member of the research proposal team and May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in airport management, Davis, California.

The other students involved in the research project include Ryan Thomas, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in airport management, Atchison; Ian Bonsall, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in airport management, Goodland; Preston Renfro, May 2017 bachelor’s graduate in unmanned aircraft systems, Dallas, Texas; and Hsin Huang, senior in airport management, Taichung City, Taiwan.

To learn more about the airport management and UAS degree options, contact Kansas State Polytechnic’s admissions office at 785-826-2640 or polytechnic@k-state.edu.

After dark: Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus approved to conduct UAS flight operations at night

By Julee Cobb

Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus has previously only been authorized to fly unmanned aircraft during the day, whether for research or in professional and undergraduate flight training. The campus has now received approval from the FAA to operate UAS after dark.

The Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus is expanding its unmanned aircraft systems capabilities to now include flight operations after dark.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center, which houses the unmanned aircraft systems research program, has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct UAS flights at night. It was granted a special waiver because flying unmanned aircraft after the sun sets is currently not permitted under the FAA’s Part 107 rule – the regulatory framework for civil and commercial small UAS operations. In addition to the campus’s research sector, the night flight waiver will be utilized in commercial flight training courses and in forthcoming curriculum in the UAS degree option.

“Having the ability to fly unmanned aircraft at night is a significant asset to our program, adding another layer to the state-of-the-art training we provide industry partners and students and allowing us to retain our status as a leader in applied UAS research,” said Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center.

“Initially, the waiver request was motivated by an ongoing research project with Westar Energy,” Carraway said, “but its benefits will have an impact on a multitude of contributions this campus makes to the unmanned industry.”

Accompanying any research work that requires data collected by UAS at night is the authorization to instruct unmanned flight training classes after dark, both for professionals and undergraduate students. The Applied Aviation Research Center offers several different UAS short courses and is introducing night operations into its commercial remote pilot training course starting June 23. The course addition includes two hours of classroom instruction covering flight basics at night, necessary waivers and exemptions for night flight and how to set up a night operation. Following the classroom instruction, students receive one hour of hands-on night flight training using a S-1000 multirotor aircraft out in the field.

In undergraduate academics, Kansas State Polytechnic offers two UAS degree options and one minor, with the UAS flight and operations concentration requiring a series of multirotor and fixed-wing flight ratings as part of the curriculum. Faculty members are currently creating new training methods that would add night operations into one of the labs for the advanced multirotor course, giving students experience with mission planning, flight cues and recovery methods after dark.

“A key element of the way we train our students is exposing them to different scenarios that they might encounter in industry as they leave school, so the more situations you can introduce them to, the better off they are going to be,” said David Burchfield, UAS teaching assistant professor and degree option coordinator at Kansas State Polytechnic. “There are an increasing number of night applications for UAS, such as search and rescue, aerial photography and ag mapping, and as time goes on, students are more likely to be working in those conditions. It is just another tool in their tool box to take with them to industry.”

The UAS degree option intends to integrate night flight training exercises starting this fall.

To inquire about UAS opportunities with the campus’s Applied Aviation Research Center, contact Carraway at 785-826-7170 or kcarraway@k-state.edu. For professional UAS training offerings, contact Kansas State Polytechnic’s professional education and outreach office at 785-826-2633 or profed@k-state.edu. To learn more about the UAS academic degree options, contact the campus’s admissions office at 785-826-2640 or polytechnic@k-state.edu.

Unmanned aircraft systems student lands summer internship at NASA

By Julee Cobb

Kendy Edmonds, senior in UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration, Valley Falls, has been selected for a summer internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Kendy Edmonds, a senior at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus, is spending the summer advancing unmanned aircraft systems technology at the nation’s best-known entity for space exploration.

Edmonds, Valley Falls, who is double majoring in unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, flight and operations and UAS design and integration, has been selected for an internship with NASA where she is focusing on data management of small UAS. Based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which is NASA’s first space flight complex established in 1959, Edmonds hopes to gain insight and experience in creating a streamlined process for collecting, storing and managing UAS data, including best practices in organizing and labeling the digital information as well as how long it should be saved and what can be deleted.

As a data processing assistant in the Applied Aviation Research Center, or AARC, at Kansas State Polytechnic, Edmonds said it is imperative for the UAS industry to have a proper system of gathering and safely maintaining data so that information about unmanned aircraft and any incidents in the field can be reported and recorded to continue improving the technology. Accurate data management also prevents the onset of dark data, which refers to information that fails to get used for a purpose.

“I can’t wait to see what kind of data they are gathering, what they are using it for and how their management system works,” Edmonds said before starting her internship June 5. “NASA is such a substantial organization with so much innovation, it will be fascinating to see how they are tackling the UAS data challenge.”

Kurt Carraway, left, UAS executive director and Edmonds’ supervisor at the Applied Aviation Research Center, says she is a “role model and outstanding example of what leadership…is all about.”

The position at Goddard Space Flight Center will be Edmonds’ first internship — she has previously spent her summers in college working at the Applied Aviation Research Center. And it is this experience along with her involvement on campus that her supervisor believes helped her stand out from the rest of the applicants and will provide her with the necessary tools to succeed.

“Since joining our team, Kendy has impressed me with her quick ability to pick up the highly technical elements of photogrammetry and data analysis. In addition to her role at AARC, she has served as a flight instructor to her underclassmen and the president of the UAS club, all while continuing to excel academically,” said Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State Polytechnic. “NASA hires the best and Kendy’s selection is indicative of the type of person she is. I am confident she will continue to be a role model and an outstanding example of what leadership in aviation is all about.”

“I am truly humbled by this opportunity,” Edmonds said. “I know I’ll only be there for 10 weeks, but I want to be challenged. I want to do something huge, something groundbreaking!”

Edmonds will complete her internship at NASA on Aug. 11.

Kansas State Polytechnic UAS student competes in first-ever collegiate drone racing competition

By Julee Cobb

Michael Wilson, a junior in the UAS flight and operations degree option, competed in the nation’s first collegiate drone racing competition.

The list for unmanned aircraft applications continues to grow – the technology is now being utilized as a racing sport and a student from the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus has participated in the first-ever collegiate competition.

Michael Wilson, a junior in the unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, flight and operations degree option, Iola, Kansas, was the only student from the state of Kansas to be selected for the inaugural Collegiate Drone Racing National Championship held April 15 at Purdue University. Representing Kansas State Polytechnic, he joined nearly 50 other pilots from schools across the country using UAS to battle it out on a complex obstacle course. The national competition was hosted by Purdue University’s student drone club, who wanted to create an event that promotes UAS education, and featured more than $15,000 worth of equipment and prizes for the winner.

Wilson says each participant was required to build the unmanned aircraft that was being raced. In each of the heats, the pilots flew around the course using first person view – cameras mounted on the aircraft to see where they were going – attempting to score as many laps as possible in two minutes. The top 16 pilots with the most laps moved on to the finals, which a student from Georgia Tech eventually won.

Wilson competing at the first-ever Collegiate Drone Racing National Championship.

Though Wilson didn’t bring home the national championship title, one of his professors, Christopher Senn, says he is “hands-down one of the best UAS flight instructors at Kansas State Polytechnic.” Students can act as a flight instructor for other UAS students once receiving a certain rating.

“Michael holds an extensive amount of knowledge in unmanned aircraft systems and is one of my top students,” said Senn. “Every chance he gets, he is outside flying his aircraft, and as a flight instructor, he has successfully taught a number of other students how to proficiently operate multirotor unmanned aircraft in a safe manner.”

After graduation next year, Wilson plans to work either as a UAS test pilot for various industries or as a UAS pilot performing inspections.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS academic degree options, contact the option coordinator, Michael Most at 785-826-2681 or mtmost@ksu.edu. For professional UAS training offerings contact the campus’s professional education and outreach office at 785-826-2633 or profed@k-state.edu. To inquire about UAS opportunities with the campus’s Applied Aviation Research Center, contact Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the center, at 785-826-7170 or kcarraway@k-state.edu.

Kansas State Polytechnic UAS professor keynote speaker at Kansas Natural Resources conference

By Julee Cobb

Another industry is seeing the potential of unmanned aircraft systems and has asked a professor at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus to serve as educator on the possible applications.

David Burchfield, a teaching assistant professor in the UAS program at Kansas State Polytechnic, was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Kansas Natural Resources GIS Technical Meeting on April 6.

David Burchfield, a teaching assistant professor in the UAS program at Kansas State Polytechnic, was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Kansas Natural Resources GIS Technical Meeting on April 6. Burchfield, who specializes in UAS remote sensing data acquisition and processing, presented to geographic information systems, or GIS, professionals from across the state. His discussion, titled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems as a Geospatial Tool for Natural Resources,” explored how UAS, or drones, can be valuably utilized in GIS mapping and data collection.

“Professionals in this industry are often looking for new ways to collect aerial data that can be incorporated into geographic information systems for many different purposes, and UAS represent an exciting, low cost approach to collecting that data,” said Burchfield.

The conference, now in its second year, is a venue for GIS professionals in natural resources conservation to collaborate on potential projects, share technical knowledge, build professional and organizational relationships and learn from other natural resources GIS professionals. Along with Burchfield giving the gathering’s keynote address, there were also a variety of presenters from state, federal, tribal, local and non-governmental organizations.

“We really enjoyed having David give the keynote at our meeting,” said Erika Stanley, a representative from the Kansas Water Office. “We asked him to speak because unmanned aircraft systems is receiving a lot of attention in the GIS field and they have so many potential applications. David’s expertise in the use of UAS platforms for the collection of natural resource data and his experience with forestry applications in Kansas was spot on for the audience of this meeting.”

Prior to arriving at Kansas State Polytechnic, Burchfield worked as an image analyst, GIS specialist and UAS pilot for AgPixel in Des Moines, Iowa, creating aerial map products primarily for the agricultural industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from Brigham Young University and a master’s in geography from K-State, where he was involved with a multidisciplinary team of scientists that was exploring agricultural and natural resources applications of UAS-based remote sensing. Also while he was a K-State graduate student, Burchfield worked at the Kansas Forest Service in Manhattan as their GIS specialist.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS academic degree options, contact the option coordinator, Michael Most at 785-826-2681 or mtmost@ksu.edu. For professional training offerings, including customizable courses, contact the campus’s professional education and outreach office at 785-826-2633 or profed@k-state.edu. To inquire about UAS opportunities with the Applied Aviation Research Center, contact Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of Kansas State University’s Applied Aviation Research Center, at 785-826-7170 or kcarraway@k-state.edu.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program expands Part 107 short course to Dallas, May 12-14

By Julee Cobb

Travis Balthazor, UAS flight operations manager for Kansas State University’s Applied Aviation Research Center, prepares students for the written FAA exam during a Part 107 training course.

The nationally ranked unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is taking its Part 107 preparation course on the road and heading south.

Designed to help professionals successfully complete the Federal Aviation Administration’s new remote pilot in command certification, Kansas State Polytechnic is offering a UAS commercial pilot training course in Dallas from Friday, May 12, through Sunday, May 14. It will focus specifically on preparing attendees to pass the FAA’s Part 107 written test, which is required for anyone who wants to operate an unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes and does not have a manned pilot certificate. The UAS commercial pilot training course complements the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual conference, called AUVSI Xponential 2017, which is in Dallas earlier that week.

“Since the UAS program was established on K-State’s Polytechnic Campus 10 years ago, it’s been aim toward helping broaden the commercialization of the industry, so expanding our reach to another state is a significant contribution to that goal,” said Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of Kansas State University’s Applied Aviation Research Center, which is on the Polytechnic Campus. “This course is perfect for any professional who wants to fly an unmanned aircraft for commercial operations and needs to pass the FAA’s Part 107 exam because it explores complex topics covered in the test that those outside the aviation industry might not understand. It also provides a personalized experience where interested UAS operators can connect with our program experts and have their questions answered immediately.”

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Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program provides tips on safe operations for drone hobbyists

By Julee Cobb

With unmanned aircraft, or drones, a popular gift item this holiday season and beyond, the unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus has five essential tips to help hobbyists fly safely.

Started almost 10 years ago, the Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program has made safe operations the cornerstone of its classroom curriculum, research and flight instruction. And with the Federal Aviation Administration estimating the number of small unmanned aircraft purchased by hobbyists in 2016 to reach 1.9 million, Kansas State Polytechnic wants to provide beginner pilots with the important basics of proper use and safety.

Spencer Schrader, a student in the UAS program and a flight instructor, says safe operations are a necessary focus for every unmanned pilot, from hobbyist to student to professional, because the industry is still developing, which means untested technology and ever-evolving guidelines.

“The world of unmanned aircraft, or drones, is still relatively new and some standards in technology either haven’t been set yet or continue to mature,” Schrader said. “Following fundamental safety precautions can help mitigate deficiencies that could be encountered with the aircraft itself or during flight operations. Safety is a top priority in the UAS courses offered at Kansas State Polytechnic and we’re proud to be able to share this insight with hobbyists to make a positive impact on their flying experience.”

• The first rule for hobbyists to remember is the FAA requires them to register their aircraft. All drones that weigh between .55 pounds to 55 pounds — even those purchased for recreational use only — must be catalogued on registermyuas.faa.gov. It only costs $5 and takes about 10 minutes, which could save hundreds of dollars in fines.

• Next, the aircraft’s batteries should be fully charged before flying. This will not only give hobbyists the longest flights possible with their drone, but it will also prevent the battery’s charge from dropping below 20 percent. Unmanned aircraft carry lithium polymer batteries, which are a hazardous material, and flying below 20 percent could increase the volatility of the battery. If your aircraft has poor battery health, it could result in the termination of the flight mid-air, endangering your drone and anyone on the ground.

• Kansas State Polytechnic’s third tip is centered on avoiding an air-to-air collision. Hobbyists should never fly within five miles of an airport unless prior authorization has been obtained from both the control tower and the airport manager. Control towers are unable to spot a drone on their radar, so it is imperative that you notify them of the time, location and altitude of your flight.

• Hobbyists also should always maintain visual contact with the aircraft. The FAA requires hobby pilots to always have their drone in their sights when flying it. An object or manned aircraft could be in the flight path, and if you’re flying beyond your visual line of sight, it could put those in the air and on the ground in harm’s way.

• The final safety tip is to remove the propellers when powering the aircraft on indoors. For example, if you are working on the aircraft or conducting software updates while inside, it may require you to apply power to the aircraft. If you accidentally bump the throttle on the controller or transmitter, it may cause the propellers to begin spinning, putting yourself and anyone else in the room at risk of serious injury.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s “Top Five Tips for Drone Safety” can also be viewed in a video version, which is posted at the top of the story or found on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cRr4bgPh-OM.

Kansas State Polytechnic, which is recognized as having the No. 2 UAS program in the nation by Drone Training HQ, offers a bachelor’s degree with two focus areas — UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration — as well as a UAS minor. Companies can attend professional development courses focused on multirotor and fixed-wing operations through the UAS program and become a certified remote pilot in command in the Part 107 course offering.

For more information about the UAS short courses, contact Travis Balthazor, flight operations manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, at 785-826-8557 or travisb@k-state.edu. For more information on the UAS bachelor’s degree, contact admissions at 785-826-2640 or polytechnic@k-state.edu.

Partners Kansas State Polytechnic, Westar Energy advance electric utility inspection and maintenance methods with drone technology

By Julee Cobb

The unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus is working with industry partner Westar Energy to integrate drone technology into the electric utility industry.

The unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is working with industry partner Westar Energy on integrating drone technology into the electric utility sector.

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus and Kansas-based power company Westar Energy are propelling the electric utility industry forward by innovating inspection and maintenance methodologies with drone technology.

With a focus on increasing reliability for customers, improving employee safety and reducing costs, Kansas State Polytechnic’s unmanned aircraft systems program and Westar Energy have been collaborating over the past year to integrate unmanned aircraft into the power company’s services. The partners, whose relationship dates back to 2013, have been working to establish an in-house UAS team at Westar Energy as well as redefine inspection and maintenance techniques using unmanned aircraft — often referred to as drones — for transmission lines, power plant boilers and electrical substations.

“One of our program’s strategic objectives has been to help introduce UAS technology to the commercial market, and we are proud to have Westar Energy as a partner because this collaborative relationship is a win-win for both of our interests,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of the UAS program on K-State’s Polytechnic Campus. “The opportunity to assist Westar Energy in building an organic UAS program from the ground up has been tremendously rewarding for us — we get to learn about the power industry while helping Westar Energy provide first-class service to its valuable customer base. We look forward to continuing this developmental work.”

Westar Energy has implemented this technology in the day-to-day inspection of thousands of miles of transmission lines and utility towers that run across Kansas. UAS platforms capture imagery of the structures to identify needed replacements and inspect completed repairs. The standard procedure for all power companies has been employees either using binoculars to examine the lines and towers, or riding lifts high into the air —which can be dangerous.

Staff members of Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS program fly a drone with a Westar Energy employee practicing new inspection techniques of transmission lines.

Staff members of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program fly a drone with a Westar Energy employee practicing new inspection techniques of transmission lines.

Westar Energy has a team of employees who have completed multirotor and fixed-wing training at Kansas State Polytechnic and lead the power company’s internal UAS division. Together with Kansas State Polytechnic, 3-D mapping of substations and boiler inspections also have been explored. The Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program has assisted Westar Energy’s UAS program with developing and testing protocols, providing additional flight instruction and creating operational guides for these new areas with UAS technology.

“Our UAS program saves money for customers by making our operations more efficient and our work safer. It also makes our service more reliable,” said Jason Klenklen, supervisor of transmission maintenance for Westar Energy. “We can use UAS or drones to identify struggling equipment before it causes an outage. Drones also make it safer and faster to inspect lines in difficult-to-reach areas when crews are locating the cause of a power outage.”

With photogrammetry, Westar Energy can generate authentic images, 3-D maps and drawings with accurate measurements of their substations so maintenance in a specific area can be outlined ahead of time instead of in the field where space can be compact and precarious. Westar Energy employees have been trained how to set up an autonomous flight plan, which is necessary for the camera on the UAS platform to take photos based on either time or distance, as well as how to execute the mission to ensure quality data.

Kansas State Polytechnic and Westar Energy’s most recent exploration has been focused on using unmanned aircraft to inspect boilers. The use of UAS inside a boiler reduces risks to personnel while allowing assessments to be conducted in an efficient and timely manner.

“Incorporating UAS, or drones, into the inspection process of boilers adds an element of safety. It allows employees to view the internal components of the boiler through real time imagery captured by a drone while securely staying on the outside,” said Sam Sharp, a researcher in the Kansas State Polytechnic UAS Laboratory and Westar Energy’s primary liaison. “Because there are no lights inside the boiler and a GPS signal is not accessible, extensive training is needed to control the aircraft. This is one of the most valuable applications of a drone within the energy sector, so the lengthy training is worth it.”

the Smoky Hills UAS Pavilion

The Smoky Hill UAS Pavilion was built in part by Westar Energy and is housed on the Polytechnic Campus. It measures 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and is 50-feet-tall, providing a space for accessible flight training and research.

In October 2015, Westar Energy and Kansas State Polytechnic collaborated on opening one of the largest enclosed unmanned flight facilities in the nation. Built on the Polytechnic Campus, it measures 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and 50-feet-tall, and employs 25 wooden poles donated and installed by Westar Energy as well as custom fabricated netting panels on all sides and across the top. The structure, called the Smoky Hill UAS Pavilion, provides a space for accessible flight training and research for students, staff and faculty in addition to outside industries for company instruction and short courses.

Kansas State Polytechnic is recognized as having the No. 2 UAS program in the nation by Drone Training HQ. The program, which began almost 10 years ago, consists of a bachelor’s degree with two focus areas — UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration — as well as a UAS minor, research and flight operations. Kansas State Polytechnic was the first entity in the United States to be awarded statewide access for unmanned flight operations by the FAA and is a member of the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Westar Energy provides electricity to about 700,000 homes and businesses in the eastern third of Kansas. In early 2017, Westar will provide about half the electricity needs of its retail customers from emission-free sources.

To inquire about possible research collaborations between Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program and your company, contact Carraway at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@ksu.edu. To learn more about Westar Energy’s UAS division or its general services, contact Klenklen at 785-575-8187.

Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program offering Part 107 short course for remote pilot in command certification

By Julee Cobb

Travis Balthazor, Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS flight operations manager, prepares students for the written FAA exam during the program's Part 107 training course.

Travis Balthazor, Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS flight operations manager, prepares students for the written FAA exam during the program’s Part 107 training course.

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is expanding its unmanned aircraft systems program to now include a weeklong course centered on the Federal Aviation Administration’s new Part 107 regulations.

Designed to prepare professionals for remote pilot in command certification, Kansas State Polytechnic is offering a UAS commercial pilot training course from Monday, Oct. 17, through Friday, Oct. 21, focused on FAA guidelines proficiency, flight safety and development of standard operating procedures. The course was created in response to the recently instituted Part 107 rules for commercial use of small unmanned aircraft, specifically the required written FAA exam for anyone without a manned pilot certificate.

“Under the FAA’s Part 107 mandate, anyone who wants to fly for commercial operations without obtaining a manned certification must demonstrate, through a written test, the ability to safely conduct those operations; however, much of the material in the test is complex and covers topics those outside the aviation industry might not understand,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program. “We believe there is validity in offering a personalized experience where interested UAS operators can connect with our program experts and have their questions answered immediately. It is also a tremendous opportunity to answer questions about complex airspace and other subject matters that can be confusing to new aviators.”

During the first three days of the commercial pilot training course, students receive in-class instruction specifically on elements covered in the written FAA exam, such as different classes of airspace, meteorology, weather, UAS performance, loading and center of gravity, and Part 107 itself. On the fourth day, students will take the required exam in the campus’s FAA test center. The remaining day and a half is spent conducting flight training in one of the nation’s largest enclosed UAS flight facilities, which is on campus, and creating essential documents for safe operations, like standard operating procedures, a preflight checklist and flight logs. After students successfully complete the FAA exam and the course, they will receive a remote pilot in command, or RPIC, certificate from the FAA.

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the K-State Polytechnic UAS program, works with Wayne Scritchfield  of Kirkham Michael on his piloting skills.

Spencer Schrader, right, a junior in the K-State Polytechnic UAS program, works with Wayne Scritchfield of Kirkham Michael on his piloting skills.

Kansas State Polytechnic launched its first commercial pilot training course on Aug. 30, the day Part 107 went into effect. Two employees of Kirkham Michael, a civil engineering firm based in Ellsworth, with offices throughout the state and in Nebraska and Iowa, attended the five-day course in preparation of their company using UAS technology for data collection, 3-D modeling and surveying crop health.

“This UAS course has prepared us to help Kirkham Michael become the frontrunners in our industry with new technology offerings,” said Wayne Scritchfield, a registered land surveyor with the company. “Along with studying for the exam and then becoming certified, we received valuable assistance with setting up standard operating procedures and flight logs, which the FAA wants to see from professionals utilizing unmanned aircraft in their work. I had also never flown before, so it was very beneficial to have personal instruction where I could work through any learning objectives.”

All of the participants expressed that the course is a convenient way to network with other individuals and companies looking to use UAS technology for a variety of applications, which could lead to future collaborations of resources.

Wayne Scritchfield, right, and Jerry Froese, top, both of Kirkham Michael, get hands-on UAS training in K-State Polytechnic's netted flying pavilion.

Wayne Scritchfield, right, and Jerry Froese, top, both of Kirkham Michael, get hands-on UAS training in K-State Polytechnic’s netted flying pavilion.

The cost of the commercial pilot training course is $1,400 for individuals, with a discounted rate for companies sending multiple attendees. The cost of the FAA exam is an additional charge. More information on the course, including registration and travel arrangements, can be found at polytechnic.k-state.edu/profed/suas.

Kansas State Polytechnic received the country’s first Section 333 exemption for flight training in November 2015, allowing the UAS program to create and conduct an extensive flight training program for students and outside entities before the FAA-agreed upon Part 107. Along with the upcoming commercial pilot training course, Kansas State Polytechnic has been providing companies such as SkySkopes, an unmanned flight services company in North Dakota, with multirotor flight training; has been offering a UAS multirotor hobbyist course; and has implemented structured flight training curriculum for students in Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS bachelor’s degree program.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS training offerings, including customizable courses, contact the campus’s professional education and outreach department at 785-826-2633 or profed@k-state.edu. To inquire about UAS research opportunities, contact Carraway at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@k-state.edu.

 

Going the extra mile: Kansas State Polytechnic, PrecisionHawk collaborate on UAS extended visual line of sight research for forthcoming FAA regulations

By Julee Cobb

Andi Meyer, research program manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, second from left, supervises one of the extended visual line of sight field experiments with two participants who have a UAS flight simulation on their computer and are anticipating a manned aircraft entering their airspace.

Andi Meyer, research program manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, second from left, supervises one of the extended visual line of sight field experiments with two participants who have a UAS flight simulation on their computer and are anticipating a manned aircraft entering their airspace.

As the new regulations for commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft systems, known as Part 107, take effect, the UAS program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is joining a research effort to assist the Federal Aviation Administration with potential next steps in that rule-making process.

Kansas State Polytechnic is collaborating with PrecisionHawk, a leading drone data and safety company headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to determine the risk assessment of extended visual line of sight operations of UAS. PrecisionHawk is a part of the FAA’s Pathfinder program, which involves industry partners exploring incremental expansion of UAS operations in the national airspace. Currently, CNN and BNSF Railway are the only other participating entities, with PrecisionHawk specifically tasked with examining UAS flights outside of the pilot’s direct vision in rural areas for crop monitoring in precision agriculture.

“Kansas State Polytechnic is honored to work alongside PrecisionHawk on research that we believe is crucial to the progression of Part 107 guidelines and moving the UAS industry in the direction it needs to go,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of the school’s UAS program. “Being able to fly with extended visual line of sight could greatly increase the efficiency and productivity of UAS operations; however, it’s important to ensure this can be done safely and routinely, and our collaboration will provide the FAA with meaningful data to make that determination.”

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the UAS program, and

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the UAS program, left, watches Nathan Maresch, a university UAS lab technologist, set up a ground control station to plan a drone’s flight plan during part of the EVLOS experiment.

After establishing a working definition for operational extended visual line of sight, or EVLOS, including an initial measured distance in Pathfinder phase one, PrecisionHawk connected with Kansas State Polytechnic to collaborate on a series of controlled field experiments during the summer and fall involving volunteers with varying levels of flight experience. The studies are aimed at calculating an achievable level of safety for drone pilot response time and choice of action when confronted by a manned intruder.

“In extended visual line of sight, a pilot maintains situational awareness of the airspace he or she is flying in while the unmanned aircraft is just beyond the limits of vision,” said Andi Meyer, Kansas State Polytechnic’s research program manager. “At this distance, it is impossible to visually determine the orientation of an unmanned aircraft, while a larger manned aircraft can be seen. It’s imperative for the remote pilot in command to be able to use the electronic flight display to compare the location of each and then rapidly make safe, effective decisions on any required response. This research is needed for the FAA to understand what level of training should be required to fly in EVLOS.”

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