Hillsboro could host UAS ag launch
FARGO, N.D. -- Hillsboro, N.D., might become a focal point in the Red River Valley region's agricultural unmanned aerial systems (UAS) world, according to officials involved in the plan.
FARGO, N.D. - Hillsboro, N.D., might become a focal point in the Red River Valley region’s agricultural unmanned aerial systems (UAS) world, according to officials involved in the plan.
The Hillsboro Banner reported on July 24 reported an Israeli-based electronics company is looking to launch drones from the Hillsboro Regional Airport for gathering data on agriculture and other research in a project involving North Dakota State University.
NDSU is applying for a North Dakota Department of Commerce Research ND grant. If approved, Elbit Systems, based in Haifa, Israel, would participate as a private sector partner, using its unmanned aerial system to fly and gather data. The project is in cooperation with the Grand Forks (N.D.) Region Economic Development Corp. and the Traill County Economic Development Commission in Hillsboro.
On July 22, officials of Elbit toured the airport, which is about halfway between Grand Forks and Fargo, N.D.
Elbit’s vice president, Danny Israeli, and director of U.S. campaigns, Yuval Chapin, met with Terry Sando of Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corp. and John Nowatzki of the NDSU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, to look at the runway and location.
Elbit hopes to use a Hermes 450, described as a multi-role high performance UAS.
Nowatzki, a machine systems specialist, says the funding proposal to the Department of Commerce would involve a dollar-for-dollar match. Elbit would pay $375,000 and the state would provide an equal amount for a total of $750,000 for the one-year project in calendar year 2016.
Nowatzki says the aircraft has a 35-foot wingspan, stays aloft 12 hours and needs a runway to land, so must be based at an airport. It would fly at 5,000 to 8,000 feet in close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, Nowatzki says. The vehicle weighs 1,200 pounds, can carry sensors and cameras of up to 400 pounds and can scan at about 92 mph. It uses an internal combustion engine.
The project would work with the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Grand Forks to coordinate with the FAA, under the proposal. The system could fly over and record 25,000 acres in an hour, with a resolution of one square inch on the ground, in what’s called “high spacial resolution.”
“It pushes that concept of unmanned aircrafts into something that would match manned aircrafts,” Nowatzki says. “I see this as another option, using unmanned aircraft, where companies would fly a whole county, store that processed imagery in the cloud, and let collaborating producers clip the data sections they want and use them for variable-rate application information on their farm equipment.”
Although it’s called a UAS or UAV, the vehicle would require 10 people to operate it from the ground, under current regulations, Nowatzki says. It will be followed with a “chase plane.”
Project organizers are hoping to work with Civil Air Patrol plane pilots who are trained for flying in formation but looking for flying hours. FAA rules require drones to have visual supervision.
Such a project would be a big step for research projects, which typically use drones with an 8- or 10-foot wingspan, that are airborne for only about an hour and a half at a time, Nowatzki says.