ConocoPhillips Alaska has announced that in mid-September, using the Insitu Inc. ScanEagle® Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), the company completed the first approved commercial use of an Unmanned Airborne System (UAS) in the United States.
The flight took place in remote Arctic airspace over the Chukchi Sea approximately 120 miles off the coast of Wainwright, AK. The flight was launched from the Westward Wind research vessel, managed and operated by Olgoonik Fairweather LLC. Controlled by a UAS pilot on the Westward Wind, the ScanEagle sent real-time video and telemetry to the ground control system on the vessel. Weighing about 40 pounds, the ScanEagle UAV can fly for up to 18 hours on one-and-a-half gallons of fuel.
Flight data will be provided to the FAA, academia and the energy industry. The results should help enable future UAS operations in the Arctic by streamlining the approval process for such flights in the national airspace. The use of UAS has the potential to enhance scientific data collection, including monitoring marine mammals and ice floes.
“Airborne surveillance is often a component of offshore projects,” said Trond-Erik Johansen, president, ConocoPhillips Alaska. “The UAS could be useful in our monitoring and data collection efforts, with the benefit of improved safety and lower noise levels as compared to using manned aircraft.”
The company’s flight successfully tested the ScanEagle UAV sensor payload and navigation system. ConocoPhillips will evaluate the data collected and work closely with the FAA to determine the feasibility of future implementation of UAS into the company’s environmental studies and site monitoring plans.
Insitu is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company. Olgoonik Fairweather LLC is a joint venture between Olgoonik Corporation and Fairweather Science LLC.
As early as October 2012, the ConocoPhillips had expressed interest in flying a UAS for their marine mammal and ice surveys. The FAA and ConocoPhillips subsequently signed an Other Transaction Agreement and the agency issued an authorization for the flights to take place in the late summer when potentially harsh Arctic conditions would be most benign.
“The September ScanEagle flights are just the start of the FAA Arctic Plan,” the FAA Says in a separate statement. “Small UAS in the Arctic can benefit many operations, such as scientific research, search and rescue, fisheries, marine mammal observers, oil and gas leaseholders and maritime route planners. The project is giving the FAA and industry needed experience and a path forward to certify UAS for more commercial operations, both in the Arctic and elsewhere.”
September 29, 2013