If you've been watching the development of Unmanned Aerial Systems and wondering when you could put this new technology to work in your precision ag operation, the answer is "right now."
Kansas State University's Applied Aviation Research Center at the Salina campus held a demonstration day on July 2 to show off the progress that has been made in getting systems ready for farmers to use and emphasized that precision ag does not have to wait until 2015 when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is expected to complete writing the rules for integrating UAS into U.S. airspace.
"If a farmer wants to buy one of these aircraft and use it on his own farm, he can do it right now," said Mike Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. "The same rules apply to his flying it that would apply to a hobbyist flying model airplanes – they can't be flown higher than 400 feet above the ground and the operator must keep them in sight."
K-State demonstrated both a "flying wing" aircraft and a rotor-propelled craft made by Aeryon and called the "Scout." They also brought a couple of larger fixed-wing aircraft to talk about but did not fly them.
Mark Blanks, UAS program manager for K-State Salina said UAS has applications across the spectrum of agriculture from crop health assessments to weed and insect identification, spectral analysis and phenotyping , monitoring irrigation systems, livestock health, algae blooms in lakes and assessing grazing impacts.
It also has potential in mapping wildlife populations, monitoring the health and habitat of endangered species and keeping track of the movement of herds of animals or flocks of migratory birds.
"And all of that is without even getting into the realm of larger aircraft or talking about the issues of operating in areas with higher development or population. All of this is just looking at potential in remote, unpopulated areas where the assurance of safety is easy to accomplish," Toscano said.
Kansas State welcomed Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Manhattan, who has been a champion of agricultural aviation research to the demonstration field day.
"As a Senator, my last earmark – um, make that designated funding request -- was $3.5 million to support the development of the Applied Aviation Research Center here at Salina," Moran said. "I think I can be proud to have that on the record."
K-State Salina was one of the first two universities in the U.S. to offer a bachelor's degree in UAS and is one of only a handful of universities authorized to fly UAS in the National Airspace System.