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Drone pilots to be trained to rescue whalesDrone pilots to be trained to rescue whales

Oceans Unmanned, a California-based nonprofit founded by veterans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s aviation program, has teamed up with NOAA, DJI, and DARTdrones to create a network of pilots trained for whale rescue missions.

Photo courtesy of Oceans Unmanned.

The freeFLY program was announced March 13, a collaboration that aims to provide air support for whale entanglement response in the waters around Maui, Hawaii.

“Cutting free a 45-foot, 40-ton free swimming animal is not an easy task; it can be dangerous. Drones are going to be a critical tool in reducing the risks involved in this type of effort,” said Ed Lyman, who coordinates NOAA whale entanglement response, in a news release. “As a public reminder, it is important to understand that response to entangled whales involving a close approach (less than 100 yards) may only be attempted by persons authorized under permit by NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.”

Brian Taggart, chief pilot for Oceans Unmanned, noted that even experienced pilots will probably have a few things to learn before they can be accepted into the new program.

“While these off-the-shelf systems can be relatively easy to fly while on land, operating off a small boat and providing the responders the imagery they need in a timely manner can be challenging,” Taggart said in the news release. “The freeFLY program will ensure all operators are well trained and equipped, operate at the highest level of safety and professionalism, and meet the requirements under the NOAA permit.”

DJI will donate a Phantom 4 Pro, and accessories, to the program, and DARTdrones (which also provides discounted training for AOPA members) will provide Part 107 test preparation classes.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992, and is jointly managed by the state and federal governments. NOAA coordinates volunteers through the Hawaiian Islands Entanglement Response Network, and remote pilots interested in being trained to help rescue whales entangled in nets can contact Oceans Unmanned for details.

Oceans Unmanned President Matt Pickett said in an email exchange with AOPA that the organization's strong partnership with NOAA in Hawaii made this an appealing mission to start with, and he hopes that successful implementation will lead to similar opportunities for pilots outside of Hawaii.

Photo courtesy of Oceans Unmanned.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Unmanned Aircraft

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