A U.S. Air Force grant will allow Kansas State University to develop mission planning, operations, and a disaster training center for the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program at its Salina, Kan., campus. The $2.76 million grant, which runs through May 2013, brings the university’s total awards for unmanned aerial systems activity to $3.14 million.
“The first phase focused on developing processes and procedures for UAS evaluation on behalf of the Kansas National Guard,” said Kurt Barnhart, head of Kansas State’s department of aviation. “This second phase of funding allows us to expand our program by establishing UAS operational capability.”
The money will be used to integrate UAS operations into the National Airspace System, he explained. FAA certificates of authorization are the current mechanism for operating unmanned aircraft.
“We have two of them that have been approved, and several more are in the works,” Barnhart said. “We’re starting with small, low-impact airspace, up to 2,500 feet, beside a restricted area. The FAA says we’re two years from ‘file and fly’ UAS—we’ll file an IFR flight plan and fly in the National Airspace System.”
Notams advise pilots of UAS operations two days in advance; the autonomous aircraft carry transponders and are visually monitored by observers at all times.
“Most of the time we’re working with a rotary-wing aircraft,” Barnhart explained. “They’re very maneuverable. We can land that just about anywhere” if an aircraft flies into the area.
The university has expanded its Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Office staff to meet academic and operational needs. Eric Shappee, an associate professor of aviation, will teach UAS classes in addition to his aviation classes. Richard Brown has been hired as an unmanned aerial systems technician, and Nathan Maresch will be a research laboratory technologist.
Among those attending Kansas State’s press conference was Troy DiGiovanni, a CFI in Hampton, Mass., working on his A&P certificate at Nashua Community College. He was awarded one of the $2,000 scholarships to Kansas State’s aviation program being awarded each day of the show. “I’m interested in corporate aviation,” said DiGiovanni, who may attend Kansas State in fall 2011.