UAS Found Capable of Marine Mammal Research

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Insitu Pacific, which provides unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for defense and civilian interests, says data from a trial of an unmanned aircraft shows the UAS to be a cost-effective alternative to manned flights over water to survey marine mammals.

The trial lasted two weeks, during which Insitu Pacific's ScanEagle UAS recorded 3,000 images of humpback whales daily. The trial also demonstrated the UAS’ ability to operate effectively in Class G commercial airspace, a key step toward expanding civil airspace to incorporate unmanned systems more widely, according to Insitu Pacific.

“Flying for a long time, at a low altitude, well off the coast is a high-risk mission for a manned aircraft; unmanned systems offer an alternative,” says Andrew Duggan, Insitu Pacific’s managing director. “ScanEagle is not only safer than manned aircraft for monitoring mammals, it is also environmentally friendlier,” he said adding the UAS’ can fly for more than 24 hours at a time on less than five quarts of fuel, much less than manned aircraft.

Ideal for operation in remote locations, the runway-independent ScanEagle aircraft was launched, controlled and retrieved from North Stradbroke Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. A high-resolution digital still camera was fitted alongside a typical ScanEagle electro-optic payload camera. Previous field trials in October 2010 were conducted in Western Australia.

Insitu Pacific, located in Queensland, is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Insitu Inc.