Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program provides tips on safe operations for drone hobbyists

By Julee Cobb

With unmanned aircraft, or drones, a popular gift item this holiday season and beyond, the unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus has five essential tips to help hobbyists fly safely.

Started almost 10 years ago, the Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program has made safe operations the cornerstone of its classroom curriculum, research and flight instruction. And with the Federal Aviation Administration estimating the number of small unmanned aircraft purchased by hobbyists in 2016 to reach 1.9 million, Kansas State Polytechnic wants to provide beginner pilots with the important basics of proper use and safety.

Spencer Schrader, a student in the UAS program and a flight instructor, says safe operations are a necessary focus for every unmanned pilot, from hobbyist to student to professional, because the industry is still developing, which means untested technology and ever-evolving guidelines.

“The world of unmanned aircraft, or drones, is still relatively new and some standards in technology either haven’t been set yet or continue to mature,” Schrader said. “Following fundamental safety precautions can help mitigate deficiencies that could be encountered with the aircraft itself or during flight operations. Safety is a top priority in the UAS courses offered at Kansas State Polytechnic and we’re proud to be able to share this insight with hobbyists to make a positive impact on their flying experience.”

• The first rule for hobbyists to remember is the FAA requires them to register their aircraft. All drones that weigh between .55 pounds to 55 pounds — even those purchased for recreational use only — must be catalogued on registermyuas.faa.gov. It only costs $5 and takes about 10 minutes, which could save hundreds of dollars in fines.

• Next, the aircraft’s batteries should be fully charged before flying. This will not only give hobbyists the longest flights possible with their drone, but it will also prevent the battery’s charge from dropping below 20 percent. Unmanned aircraft carry lithium polymer batteries, which are a hazardous material, and flying below 20 percent could increase the volatility of the battery. If your aircraft has poor battery health, it could result in the termination of the flight mid-air, endangering your drone and anyone on the ground.

• Kansas State Polytechnic’s third tip is centered on avoiding an air-to-air collision. Hobbyists should never fly within five miles of an airport unless prior authorization has been obtained from both the control tower and the airport manager. Control towers are unable to spot a drone on their radar, so it is imperative that you notify them of the time, location and altitude of your flight.

• Hobbyists also should always maintain visual contact with the aircraft. The FAA requires hobby pilots to always have their drone in their sights when flying it. An object or manned aircraft could be in the flight path, and if you’re flying beyond your visual line of sight, it could put those in the air and on the ground in harm’s way.

• The final safety tip is to remove the propellers when powering the aircraft on indoors. For example, if you are working on the aircraft or conducting software updates while inside, it may require you to apply power to the aircraft. If you accidentally bump the throttle on the controller or transmitter, it may cause the propellers to begin spinning, putting yourself and anyone else in the room at risk of serious injury.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s “Top Five Tips for Drone Safety” can also be viewed in a video version, which is posted at the top of the story or found on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cRr4bgPh-OM.

Kansas State Polytechnic, which is recognized as having the No. 2 UAS program in the nation by Drone Training HQ, offers a bachelor’s degree with two focus areas — UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration — as well as a UAS minor. Companies can attend professional development courses focused on multirotor and fixed-wing operations through the UAS program and become a certified remote pilot in command in the Part 107 course offering.

For more information about the UAS short courses, contact Travis Balthazor, flight operations manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, at 785-826-8557 or travisb@k-state.edu. For more information on the UAS bachelor’s degree, contact admissions at 785-826-2640 or polytechnic@k-state.edu.

Partners Kansas State Polytechnic, Westar Energy advance electric utility inspection and maintenance methods with drone technology

By Julee Cobb

The unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus is working with industry partner Westar Energy to integrate drone technology into the electric utility industry.

The unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is working with industry partner Westar Energy on integrating drone technology into the electric utility sector.

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus and Kansas-based power company Westar Energy are propelling the electric utility industry forward by innovating inspection and maintenance methodologies with drone technology.

With a focus on increasing reliability for customers, improving employee safety and reducing costs, Kansas State Polytechnic’s unmanned aircraft systems program and Westar Energy have been collaborating over the past year to integrate unmanned aircraft into the power company’s services. The partners, whose relationship dates back to 2013, have been working to establish an in-house UAS team at Westar Energy as well as redefine inspection and maintenance techniques using unmanned aircraft — often referred to as drones — for transmission lines, power plant boilers and electrical substations.

“One of our program’s strategic objectives has been to help introduce UAS technology to the commercial market, and we are proud to have Westar Energy as a partner because this collaborative relationship is a win-win for both of our interests,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of the UAS program on K-State’s Polytechnic Campus. “The opportunity to assist Westar Energy in building an organic UAS program from the ground up has been tremendously rewarding for us — we get to learn about the power industry while helping Westar Energy provide first-class service to its valuable customer base. We look forward to continuing this developmental work.”

Westar Energy has implemented this technology in the day-to-day inspection of thousands of miles of transmission lines and utility towers that run across Kansas. UAS platforms capture imagery of the structures to identify needed replacements and inspect completed repairs. The standard procedure for all power companies has been employees either using binoculars to examine the lines and towers, or riding lifts high into the air —which can be dangerous.

Staff members of Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS program fly a drone with a Westar Energy employee practicing new inspection techniques of transmission lines.

Staff members of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program fly a drone with a Westar Energy employee practicing new inspection techniques of transmission lines.

Westar Energy has a team of employees who have completed multirotor and fixed-wing training at Kansas State Polytechnic and lead the power company’s internal UAS division. Together with Kansas State Polytechnic, 3-D mapping of substations and boiler inspections also have been explored. The Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program has assisted Westar Energy’s UAS program with developing and testing protocols, providing additional flight instruction and creating operational guides for these new areas with UAS technology.

“Our UAS program saves money for customers by making our operations more efficient and our work safer. It also makes our service more reliable,” said Jason Klenklen, supervisor of transmission maintenance for Westar Energy. “We can use UAS or drones to identify struggling equipment before it causes an outage. Drones also make it safer and faster to inspect lines in difficult-to-reach areas when crews are locating the cause of a power outage.”

With photogrammetry, Westar Energy can generate authentic images, 3-D maps and drawings with accurate measurements of their substations so maintenance in a specific area can be outlined ahead of time instead of in the field where space can be compact and precarious. Westar Energy employees have been trained how to set up an autonomous flight plan, which is necessary for the camera on the UAS platform to take photos based on either time or distance, as well as how to execute the mission to ensure quality data.

Kansas State Polytechnic and Westar Energy’s most recent exploration has been focused on using unmanned aircraft to inspect boilers. The use of UAS inside a boiler reduces risks to personnel while allowing assessments to be conducted in an efficient and timely manner.

“Incorporating UAS, or drones, into the inspection process of boilers adds an element of safety. It allows employees to view the internal components of the boiler through real time imagery captured by a drone while securely staying on the outside,” said Sam Sharp, a researcher in the Kansas State Polytechnic UAS Laboratory and Westar Energy’s primary liaison. “Because there are no lights inside the boiler and a GPS signal is not accessible, extensive training is needed to control the aircraft. This is one of the most valuable applications of a drone within the energy sector, so the lengthy training is worth it.”

the Smoky Hills UAS Pavilion

The Smoky Hill UAS Pavilion was built in part by Westar Energy and is housed on the Polytechnic Campus. It measures 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and is 50-feet-tall, providing a space for accessible flight training and research.

In October 2015, Westar Energy and Kansas State Polytechnic collaborated on opening one of the largest enclosed unmanned flight facilities in the nation. Built on the Polytechnic Campus, it measures 300-feet-long by 200-feet-wide and 50-feet-tall, and employs 25 wooden poles donated and installed by Westar Energy as well as custom fabricated netting panels on all sides and across the top. The structure, called the Smoky Hill UAS Pavilion, provides a space for accessible flight training and research for students, staff and faculty in addition to outside industries for company instruction and short courses.

Kansas State Polytechnic is recognized as having the No. 2 UAS program in the nation by Drone Training HQ. The program, which began almost 10 years ago, consists of a bachelor’s degree with two focus areas — UAS flight and operations and UAS design and integration — as well as a UAS minor, research and flight operations. Kansas State Polytechnic was the first entity in the United States to be awarded statewide access for unmanned flight operations by the FAA and is a member of the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Westar Energy provides electricity to about 700,000 homes and businesses in the eastern third of Kansas. In early 2017, Westar will provide about half the electricity needs of its retail customers from emission-free sources.

To inquire about possible research collaborations between Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program and your company, contact Carraway at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@ksu.edu. To learn more about Westar Energy’s UAS division or its general services, contact Klenklen at 785-575-8187.

Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team advances to nationals, senior Chris Messing wins Top Pilot

By Julee Cobb

Members of the traveling Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team pose with their awards from the National Intercollegiate Flying Association's SAFECON Region VI competition. Back row, from left: Jason Rohlf, Nicholas Terrapin, Scott Agee, faculty adviser Benjamin Jaffee, team captain Austin Bally, Caleb Strahm and Zachariah Smith; and front row, from left: Jacob Mitchell, Matthew Katzke, Maddie Perry, Chris Messing, Mason McMillan and Christopher Pennington.

Members of the traveling Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team pose with their awards from the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON Region VI competition. Back row, from left: Jason Rohlf, Nicholas Terrapin, Scott Agee, faculty adviser Benjamin Jaffee, team captain Austin Bally, Caleb Strahm and Zachariah Smith; and front row, from left: Jacob Mitchell, Matthew Katzke, Maddie Perry, Chris Messing, Mason McMillan and Christopher Pennington.

The Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team has landed the honor of competing on a national stage after qualifying in regional play with a third-place finish as well as winning several individual awards.

Attending the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON competition Oct. 17-20 in Norman, Oklahoma, the flight team — from Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus — battled it out against other colleges in its region for the chance to advance to the national championship. After participating in a variety of events consisting of tests both on the ground and in the air, the Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team placed third overall, securing its spot at nationals in May 2017.

“During the weeks leading up to regionals, the team spent many hours working on the intricacies of each event, and then during the competition, everyone did an excellent job of executing what they had learned,” said Austin Bally, Wichita, a senior in professional pilot and captain of the flight team. “Along with the third-place team finish, we earned several top 10 placings in the ground events and many top five scores in the flight events. Our success was a collaborative effort and proved that practice pays off.”

The Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team faced six other universities during the SAFECON regional: Oklahoma State University, which placed first; University of Nebraska, Omaha, which came in second; Southeastern Oklahoma State University; University of Central Missouri; St. Louis University, Parks College; and University of Oklahoma. Members of each team entered ground and flight events, such as landing a plane accurately in a designated area, recognizing different types of aircraft from ambiguous photos and attempting to hit a target while dropping an item from the air. Participants earned points for each event entered, which were then accumulated to score single event winners as well as the top three teams and the overall top pilot.

Chris Messing, a senior in the professional pilot program at Kansas State Polytechnic, wins the title of Top Pilot and is the Top Scoring Contestant at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association's SAFECON Region VI.

Chris Messing, a senior in the professional pilot program at Kansas State Polytechnic, wins the title of Top Pilot and is the Top Scoring Contestant at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON Region VI.

One of the individual standout moments came from Kansas State Polytechnic senior Chris Messing, Wichita, who, because of his placings in seven events, accrued enough points to win both Top Scoring Contestant and the Top Pilot award out of more than 80 total participants from the seven universities. Messing, who enjoys the family atmosphere, networking and the continued opportunity to develop his aviation knowledge, says earning the principal honors was unexpected, but it has given him validation and confidence.

“Going into the competition, I just wanted to do my best so I could give my teammates the opportunity to experience nationals,” Messing said. “I’m proud to win these awards because they demonstrate that my hard work and preparation for the competition have been worth it. They also give me more confidence to know I can accomplish anything as long as I study, stay focused and do what’s right.”

Along with Messing, the following members of the Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team competed at regionals; included are individual placings:

Nicholas Terrapin, junior, Alma, first in message drop, fifth in navigation, 22nd in aircraft recognition and 22nd in power-off landing; Mason McMillan, senior, Ozawkie, eighth in power-off landing, 10th in aircraft preflight inspection, 22nd in short field landing and 22nd in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation; Caleb Strahm, freshman, Sabetha, 25th in computer accuracy; Austin Bally, senior, Wichita, second in power-off landing, fifth in navigation, 11th in computer accuracy, 14th in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and 16th in short field landing; and Maddie Perry, sophomore, Wichita, 15th in short field landing and 34th in computer accuracy.

Jacob Mitchell, junior, Foxfield, Colorado, eighth in navigation,ninth in aircraft preflight inspection, 10th in power-off landing and 22nd in computer accuracy; Jason Rohlf, freshman, Tipton, Iowa, second in aircraft recognition; Scott Agee, senior, Independence, Missouri, first in message drop, sixth in ground trainer, 13th in navigation, 24th in short field landing and 26th in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation; Zachariah Smith, freshman, Hendersonville, North Carolina, 28th in aircraft recognition; Christopher Pennington, senior, El Paso, Texas, first in aircraft recognition; and Matthew Katzke, junior, Waukesha, Wisconsin, eighth in navigation, 21st in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and 23rd in computer accuracy.

The flight team has 20 members, with 12 on the travel team after a tryout process. Along with competing annually, flight team members also use their club as way to give back to the community and to connect children with aviation. Throughout the year the team is a part of several events like the All-University Open House and Candy Canes and Airplanes. It also conducts two aviation camps for kids and one for high school students in the summer.

In 2014, the flight team won the Loening Trophy at nationals, which is considered the oldest and most elite of all collegiate aviation awards. It recognized the team as having the most outstanding all-around aviation program in the country.

For more information on the flight team, including sponsorship, contact faculty adviser Benjamin Jaffee at 785-826-2978 or bjaffee@k-state.edu.

Kansas State Polytechnic expands learning fleet with four new Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft

By Julee Cobb

The aviation program at Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus is expanding its learning fleet with the addition of four new Beechcraft Bonanza G36 aircraft.

The aviation program at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is expanding its learning fleet with the addition of four new Beechcraft Bonanza G36 aircraft.

The aviation program at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is enhancing its students’ flying experience with the addition of new aircraft to its fleet.

Kansas State Polytechnic has purchased a quartet of Beechcraft Bonanza G36 aircraft from longtime university partner Textron Aviation as part of its plan to continuously provide professional pilot majors with the most relevant and cutting-edge flight training possible. The new planes arrived intermittently throughout 2015 and 2016, with the final delivery in mid-October. Kansas State Polytechnic’s aviation program is now outfitted with 34 learning aircraft, all of which are Textron Aviation products.

“For more than 50 years, this campus has been offering innovative aviation education and it is important that we continue that rich tradition with an investment in our students’ future,” said Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic. “We are proud to add the Bonanza G36 to our fleet family because its state-of-the-art technology and amenities are exactly what students will experience professionally, preparing them for a successful transition from college to career.”

“Kansas State Polytechnic continues to be a strong partner for Textron Aviation and we are thrilled they have selected Textron Aviation products to modernize their flight training fleet,” said Doug May, vice president, Piston Aircraft. “The Beechcraft Bonanza will provide the students a modern and sophisticated training platform to advance their skills. We are excited to continue building our relationship with the university to support the next generation of aviators.”

Doug May, vice president of Piston Aircraft at Textron Aviation, officially presents Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic, with the keys to the aviation program's fourth Beechcraft Bonanza G36 aircraft.

Doug May, vice president of Piston Aircraft at Textron Aviation, officially presents Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic, with the keys to the aviation program’s fourth Beechcraft Bonanza G36 aircraft.

The Bonanza G36 aircraft, which are being used primarily in the aviation program for commercial and certified flight instructor, or CFI, ratings, feature a Garmin G1000 avionics system that aids situational awareness, simplicity and safety in the cockpit. They also are equipped with the satellite-based surveillance system ADS-B, which broadcasts an airplane’s location to air traffic control as well as other nearby airplanes that are outfitted with the technology. An FAA requirement of all aircraft by Jan. 1, 2020, ADS-B gives the professional pilot students increased awareness by alerting them to approaching aircraft and is another component they will use in industry.

Zach Davis, Hutchinson, who graduated from Kansas State Polytechnic with a bachelor’s degree in professional pilot in May, is now a CFI for the aviation program and believes the students he is teaching are getting a well-rounded experience when flying the G36.

“An early variant of the Beechcraft Bonanza was first produced in the late 1940s, so students are getting to fly a solid aircraft with a well-established track record,” said Davis. “Beyond its prestige, the brand-new planes give students increased reliability and current technology found in the commercial and corporate world. And because the G36 is a high performance aircraft, it trains students to think ahead and make smart decisions more quickly.”

“I think the Bonanza G36 offers our students a more diverse and advanced aircraft that many other schools are not able to provide for training,” said Austin Bally, Wichita, a senior in professional pilot, captain of the campus’s flight team and a CFI. “Having G36s in our fleet introduce students to a more complicated aircraft early in their training, giving them the confidence and experience needed to fly complex aircraft in their careers.”

Along with the boost in its fleet, Kansas State Polytechnic’s aviation program will be upgrading a portion of its flight center. Textron Aviation recently donated $150,000 to modernize the Certified Flight Instructor Lab. The renovation will increase the area’s square footage, creating more workspace for flight instructors and a better learning environment for students enrolled in the program.

Kansas State Polytechnic also was recently approved as a Cessna Pilot Center, one of only five in the state of Kansas. Cessna Aircraft Company is a subsidiary of Textron Aviation Inc.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s aviation program, including its professional pilot, airport management, aviation maintenance management, and unmanned aircraft systems bachelor’s degrees, contact admissions at 785-826-2640 or polytechnic@k-state.edu. For more information on Textron Aviation products, visit txtav.com.

Textron Aviation makes $150,000 gift to Kansas State Polytechnic

Textron Aviation is further strengthening its relationship with Kansas State University through a $150,000 donation to help the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus modernize its aviation program in the sky and on the ground.

Textron Aviation’s generosity will dramatically increase the square footage of the Certified Flight Instructor, or CFI, Lab, creating more workspace for flight instructors and a better learning environment for students enrolled in the program. This will strongly impact student recruitment at Kansas State Polytechnic and the future of the aviation industry.

The Powercat logo also will be featured on the hood of the Textron Aviation NASCAR for the race Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Kansas Speedway, another example of Textron Aviation’s continued support for the university.

“We’ve had a long relationship with K-State and we look forward to deepening our ties as the school continues training the next generation,” said Doug May, vice president of Piston Aircraft at Textron Aviation. “The modernization of the CFI Lab will not only provide a more functional learning environment and workspace, it will be instrumental in the recruitment and retention of Kansas State Polytechnic students.”

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Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program offering Part 107 short course for remote pilot in command certification

By Julee Cobb

Travis Balthazor, Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS flight operations manager, prepares students for the written FAA exam during the program's Part 107 training course.

Travis Balthazor, Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS flight operations manager, prepares students for the written FAA exam during the program’s Part 107 training course.

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is expanding its unmanned aircraft systems program to now include a weeklong course centered on the Federal Aviation Administration’s new Part 107 regulations.

Designed to prepare professionals for remote pilot in command certification, Kansas State Polytechnic is offering a UAS commercial pilot training course from Monday, Oct. 17, through Friday, Oct. 21, focused on FAA guidelines proficiency, flight safety and development of standard operating procedures. The course was created in response to the recently instituted Part 107 rules for commercial use of small unmanned aircraft, specifically the required written FAA exam for anyone without a manned pilot certificate.

“Under the FAA’s Part 107 mandate, anyone who wants to fly for commercial operations without obtaining a manned certification must demonstrate, through a written test, the ability to safely conduct those operations; however, much of the material in the test is complex and covers topics those outside the aviation industry might not understand,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program. “We believe there is validity in offering a personalized experience where interested UAS operators can connect with our program experts and have their questions answered immediately. It is also a tremendous opportunity to answer questions about complex airspace and other subject matters that can be confusing to new aviators.”

During the first three days of the commercial pilot training course, students receive in-class instruction specifically on elements covered in the written FAA exam, such as different classes of airspace, meteorology, weather, UAS performance, loading and center of gravity, and Part 107 itself. On the fourth day, students will take the required exam in the campus’s FAA test center. The remaining day and a half is spent conducting flight training in one of the nation’s largest enclosed UAS flight facilities, which is on campus, and creating essential documents for safe operations, like standard operating procedures, a preflight checklist and flight logs. After students successfully complete the FAA exam and the course, they will receive a remote pilot in command, or RPIC, certificate from the FAA.

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the K-State Polytechnic UAS program, works with Wayne Scritchfield  of Kirkham Michael on his piloting skills.

Spencer Schrader, right, a junior in the K-State Polytechnic UAS program, works with Wayne Scritchfield of Kirkham Michael on his piloting skills.

Kansas State Polytechnic launched its first commercial pilot training course on Aug. 30, the day Part 107 went into effect. Two employees of Kirkham Michael, a civil engineering firm based in Ellsworth, with offices throughout the state and in Nebraska and Iowa, attended the five-day course in preparation of their company using UAS technology for data collection, 3-D modeling and surveying crop health.

“This UAS course has prepared us to help Kirkham Michael become the frontrunners in our industry with new technology offerings,” said Wayne Scritchfield, a registered land surveyor with the company. “Along with studying for the exam and then becoming certified, we received valuable assistance with setting up standard operating procedures and flight logs, which the FAA wants to see from professionals utilizing unmanned aircraft in their work. I had also never flown before, so it was very beneficial to have personal instruction where I could work through any learning objectives.”

All of the participants expressed that the course is a convenient way to network with other individuals and companies looking to use UAS technology for a variety of applications, which could lead to future collaborations of resources.

Wayne Scritchfield, right, and Jerry Froese, top, both of Kirkham Michael, get hands-on UAS training in K-State Polytechnic's netted flying pavilion.

Wayne Scritchfield, right, and Jerry Froese, top, both of Kirkham Michael, get hands-on UAS training in K-State Polytechnic’s netted flying pavilion.

The cost of the commercial pilot training course is $1,400 for individuals, with a discounted rate for companies sending multiple attendees. The cost of the FAA exam is an additional charge. More information on the course, including registration and travel arrangements, can be found at polytechnic.k-state.edu/profed/suas.

Kansas State Polytechnic received the country’s first Section 333 exemption for flight training in November 2015, allowing the UAS program to create and conduct an extensive flight training program for students and outside entities before the FAA-agreed upon Part 107. Along with the upcoming commercial pilot training course, Kansas State Polytechnic has been providing companies such as SkySkopes, an unmanned flight services company in North Dakota, with multirotor flight training; has been offering a UAS multirotor hobbyist course; and has implemented structured flight training curriculum for students in Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS bachelor’s degree program.

To learn more about Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS training offerings, including customizable courses, contact the campus’s professional education and outreach department at 785-826-2633 or profed@k-state.edu. To inquire about UAS research opportunities, contact Carraway at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@k-state.edu.

 

Going the extra mile: Kansas State Polytechnic, PrecisionHawk collaborate on UAS extended visual line of sight research for forthcoming FAA regulations

By Julee Cobb

Andi Meyer, research program manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, second from left, supervises one of the extended visual line of sight field experiments with two participants who have a UAS flight simulation on their computer and are anticipating a manned aircraft entering their airspace.

Andi Meyer, research program manager at Kansas State Polytechnic, second from left, supervises one of the extended visual line of sight field experiments with two participants who have a UAS flight simulation on their computer and are anticipating a manned aircraft entering their airspace.

As the new regulations for commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft systems, known as Part 107, take effect, the UAS program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is joining a research effort to assist the Federal Aviation Administration with potential next steps in that rule-making process.

Kansas State Polytechnic is collaborating with PrecisionHawk, a leading drone data and safety company headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to determine the risk assessment of extended visual line of sight operations of UAS. PrecisionHawk is a part of the FAA’s Pathfinder program, which involves industry partners exploring incremental expansion of UAS operations in the national airspace. Currently, CNN and BNSF Railway are the only other participating entities, with PrecisionHawk specifically tasked with examining UAS flights outside of the pilot’s direct vision in rural areas for crop monitoring in precision agriculture.

“Kansas State Polytechnic is honored to work alongside PrecisionHawk on research that we believe is crucial to the progression of Part 107 guidelines and moving the UAS industry in the direction it needs to go,” said Kurt Carraway, executive director of the school’s UAS program. “Being able to fly with extended visual line of sight could greatly increase the efficiency and productivity of UAS operations; however, it’s important to ensure this can be done safely and routinely, and our collaboration will provide the FAA with meaningful data to make that determination.”

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the UAS program, and

Spencer Schrader, a junior in the UAS program, left, watches Nathan Maresch, a university UAS lab technologist, set up a ground control station to plan a drone’s flight plan during part of the EVLOS experiment.

After establishing a working definition for operational extended visual line of sight, or EVLOS, including an initial measured distance in Pathfinder phase one, PrecisionHawk connected with Kansas State Polytechnic to collaborate on a series of controlled field experiments during the summer and fall involving volunteers with varying levels of flight experience. The studies are aimed at calculating an achievable level of safety for drone pilot response time and choice of action when confronted by a manned intruder.

“In extended visual line of sight, a pilot maintains situational awareness of the airspace he or she is flying in while the unmanned aircraft is just beyond the limits of vision,” said Andi Meyer, Kansas State Polytechnic’s research program manager. “At this distance, it is impossible to visually determine the orientation of an unmanned aircraft, while a larger manned aircraft can be seen. It’s imperative for the remote pilot in command to be able to use the electronic flight display to compare the location of each and then rapidly make safe, effective decisions on any required response. This research is needed for the FAA to understand what level of training should be required to fly in EVLOS.”

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What commercial use of small UAS within the national airspace means to Kansas State

By Travis Balthazor

Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program

Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program is happy to help fellow Wildcats understand the Part 107 regulations so the technology is used in a safe, legal manner across the university.

 

New FAA rules — Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — for small unmanned aerial systems, or sUAS, for commercial operators will go into effect on Aug. 29. Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus can help sUAS operators understand the changes and how to comply with the new rule. Read a complete PDF document with information about the new rule on page 598.

The new rules’ provisions are designed to minimize risks to nonparticipating people and property — in the air and on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who are not directly participating in the UAS operation.

K-State Polytechnic is an FAA approved testing center for the remote pilot in command certificate, or RPIC, and offers a comprehensive sUAS Remote Pilot in Command training course to help prepare individuals to take and pass the exam. Individuals who complete and pass the RPIC exam will be able to conduct operations once they have obtained a temporary RPIC certificate, if applicable, or received their RPIC in the mail.

How to operate under Part 107

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a UAS must be at least 16 years old and have a RPIC with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual falls into one of two categories:

1. Applicants with Part 61 Certificates: A person who holds a part 61 pilot certificate, or manned pilots license — except a student pilot certificate — and has completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar months may elect to apply using the following process:

Complete the online course — Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, ALC-451 — located on the FAA Safety Team website and receive a completion certificate.

2. Applicants without Part 61 Certificates: Under this category, individuals must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge-testing center and take a recurrent knowledge test every two years. The test is not to be taken lightly. The FAA wants to ensure all RPIC operators understand the responsibilities associated with flying a sUAS in the National Airspace System. Preparation for this test is critical to pass the exam. Example questions and testing information are available online.

Kansas State University has many sUAS operational areas that are closer than five nautical miles to an airfield, including Ashland Bottoms near Manhattan. Thesmall UAS Advisory Circular, AC 107-2, states that operations in Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace, or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, are not allowed unless that person has prior authorization from air traffic control. Manhattan, Salina, Hays, Topeka, Wichita and several others fall within this category.

Kansas State University’s UAS department is currently working with Manhattan and Salina air traffic control authorities to obtain such authority. If you are interested in conducting operations under Part 107, we ask that you coordinate with us, as we are already working with air traffic control authorities to determine if operations under Part 107 will be allowed. In the meantime, our current Public Certificates of Waiver or Authorization and Section 333 exemptions remain valid, including agreements with air traffic control authorities.

If you have questions regarding any of the material listed, please contact Travis Balthazor, flight operations manager at Kansas State University’s UAS department, at travisb@k-state.edu or 785-826-8557.

Kansas State Polytechnic joins Kansas-based company in aviation technology competitions

By Pat Melgares

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus has joined with a Kansas-based company to launch three technology competitions that seek ways to improve the safety of flying drones, help pilots pass their color vision test, and aid NASA’s search to find life in the solar system.

Kansas State Polytechnic is working with HiddenGenius.com, an online community that creates competitions to develop technologies that improve the world.

The work by HiddenGenius.com and its CEO, Trevor McKeeman, is being supported by Kansas State University through the Institute for Commercialization. The company is based in Manhattan, but has employees and advisors in eight time zones.

HiddenGenius.com essentially allows people to “spark” an online competition for a technology they would like to see developed. Sponsors who like the idea provide money to fund the competition prize. The HiddenGenius.com community collaboratively shapes the goals and rules of the competition, McKeeman said.

Ultimately, companies compete to deliver the technology. The winning company receives the sponsors’ prize money and recognition by media and customers, he said.

Here’s a look at the competitions sponsored by Kansas State Polytechnic and HiddenGenius.com:

Drone Sense and Avoid seeks to develop technology that will reduce the risk of an unmanned aircraft system colliding with light aircraft.

“We have visited with many of the top minds in the drone industry, NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, pilot organizations, drone operators and companies wanting to use drones beyond line of sight,” McKeeman said.

Kurt Barnhart, associate dean of research and executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State Polytechnic, said this competition is one of the main remaining technical challenges to fully integrating UAS into the national airspace system, adding that companies like Amazon, Google and others have introduced the concept of using drones to deliver products to consumers.

“Solving that piece is huge for many stakeholders,” Barnhart said.

Another competition is to develop technology that helps pilots pass the color vision test required by the FAA. McKeeman said the first company to prove its technology helps pilots with color blindness pass the test, and that gets approval from the FAA, wins the prize.

The number of people in the U.S. with a color vision deficiency is between 20-30 million, or roughly the population of Los Angeles, New York City and Dallas combined.

“It’s crazy, in a world where we knock down barriers for those with disabilities, that millions of people may be cut off from their dream of being a pilot,” McKeeman said. “Technology can fix this for pilots, and may also be used to help millions of kids who struggle with color-based curriculum in school. I was one of those kids.”

The third competition is to help NASA find life in the solar system.

“NASA believes that Mars and Europa both have water, and it is possible this may contain life,” McKeeman said. “The next generation of rovers must be completely sterile of earth-based bacteria before they can explore these areas.”

“Decontaminating the Mars rover is significant because as we explore other planets, it’s important not to introduce foreign microbes that could create unintended consequences in that new environment,” Barnhart said. “It sounds cool just talking about it.”

McKeeman said HiddenGenius.com and Kansas State Polytechnic hope to inspire creative thinking.

“It is exciting to think that people from around the world can help sponsor a prize competition, that some hidden genius in their garage might find a solution to this challenge, and that we may be able to help NASA find life beyond Earth,” McKeeman said. “What if the technology could also be used to sterilize hospital rooms and save lives? Who wouldn’t want to help change human history.”

More information is available at HiddenGenius.com, which is free to join. McKeeman said any member can spark a competition, shape the goals and rules, sponsor the prize, or compete to win.

 

New collaboration takes flight: Kansas State Polytechnic and Kansas Wesleyan University jointly offer unmanned aircraft systems, emergency management minors to students

By Julee Cobb and John Elmore

Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus and Kansas Wesleyan University sign an agreement July 11 to enable unmanned aircraft systems students at Kansas State Polytechnic and emergency management students at KWU to cross-register and earn a minor in the other institution's program. Front row, from left are: Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic, and Matt Thompson, president of Kansas Wesleyan University. Back row, from left are: Bernie Botson, deputy director of emergency management for Saline County; Kendy Edmonds, junior in Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS program; Lonnie Booker, Jr., director of Kansas Wesleyan University's emergency management program; Kurt Carraway, executive director of Kansas State Polytechnic's UAS program; Bill Backlin, Kansas Wesleyan University's interim provost; and Alysia Starkey, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Kansas State Polytechnic.

Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus and Kansas Wesleyan University sign an agreement July 11 to enable unmanned aircraft systems students at Kansas State Polytechnic and emergency management students at KWU to cross-register and earn a minor in the other institution’s program. Front row, from left are: Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic, and Matt Thompson, president of Kansas Wesleyan University. Back row, from left are: Bernie Botson, deputy director of emergency management for Saline County; Kendy Edmonds, junior in Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program; Lonnie Booker, Jr., director of Kansas Wesleyan University’s emergency management program; Kurt Carraway, executive director of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program; Bill Backlin, Kansas Wesleyan University’s interim provost; and Alysia Starkey, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Kansas State Polytechnic.

It’s a disaster with casualties. An emergency management team and an unmanned aircraft systems support team both arrive on scene — but how do they speak each other’s language and work together?

Two of Salina’s leading higher education institutions are joining forces to tackle that issue in a collaboration that will prepare future emergency managers how to best utilize unmanned aircraft when deploying resources and to understand and analyze the data they collect. In turn, this new collaboration will teach future UAS pilots how to efficiently operate unmanned aircraft, often known as drones, within disaster sites and support the efforts of emergency response teams in crisis situations.
The collaboration was made official at a signing event July 11 at Kansas State Polytechnic. Through this agreement, Kansas Wesleyan University emergency management majors are able to cross-register and earn a minor in unmanned aircraft systems at Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus, while unmanned aircraft systems students at Kansas State Polytechnic now can cross-register and earn a minor in emergency management at Kansas Wesleyan University, or KWU.

“This is the first collaboration of its kind between state and private universities for such programs,” said Matt Thompson, president and CEO of Kansas Wesleyan University. “The graduates of these nationally recognized programs will have cross-over training and knowledge that makes them more prepared and therefore, in higher demand in their career fields.”

“The origin of Kansas State Polytechnic’s UAS program was influenced by the devastating effects of the EF5 tornado in Greensburg in 2007 and the need to support first responders and emergency managers with relevant technology that locates survivors and evaluates damage,” said Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of Kansas State Polytechnic. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to reconnect with those roots through this collaboration and provide our students with another applicable avenue in the ever-expanding field of UAS.”

Dean Verna Fitzsimmons speaks during the agreement signing with Kansas Wesleyan University.

Dean Verna Fitzsimmons speaks during the agreement signing with Kansas Wesleyan University.

Students enrolled in Kansas State Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Science program in aeronautical technology with an emphasis in unmanned aircraft systems, which requires a private pilot certificate with instrument rating, will be able to add a minor in emergency management with 18 credit hours in emergency management courses taught at KWU. These hours consist of four required emergency management courses plus two emergency management electives. Required courses are Introduction to Emergency Management, Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness, Disaster Response and Recovery, and National Incident Management Systems. Emergency management elective courses include Damage Assessment, Cyberwarfare, Criminal Law, Sociology of Disaster, and Victimology.

“Many of our UAS students have ambitions of applying their operations skills in a way that is socially beneficial, and offering the emergency management minor allows them to further their career aspirations while making a contribution to those in need,” said Michael Most, Kansas State Polytechnic associate professor and unmanned aircraft systems program lead. “We also are proud to be able to share the multifaceted uses of UAS technology with KWU students to supplement and diversify their field of study by adding another tool to the emergency manager’s toolbox.”

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in emergency management major at KWU will be able to add a minor in unmanned aircraft systems with 15 credit hours in UAS courses taught at Kansas State Polytechnic. These hours consist of three required UAS courses and two additional courses tailored for either licensed pilots or non-aviators. Required UAS courses include Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Processing Techniques for Low Altitude Remotely Sensed (LARS) Data, and Acquisition and Advanced Processing of LARS Data. The LARS courses are designed for environmental and agricultural sensing applications but will be tailored to the needs of KWU emergency management students for the purposes of damage assessment and remote site investigation following a disaster incident. The final two courses in the minor, UAS Design and UAS Mission Planning and Operations, will allow students to build their own unmanned aircraft capable of being remotely piloted. There is an additional cost for the aircraft materials.

“We are excited about the opportunities this new agreement presents,” said Lonnie Booker Jr., KWU assistant professor and director of emergency management. “It will take both fields of study to a whole new level of knowledge and expertise and enhance two programs that produce well-trained graduates for an emerging field.”

Guests of the signing event could view various technologies that are essential to UAS and emergency management.

Guests of the signing event could view various technologies that are essential to UAS and emergency management.

The emergency management major at Kansas Wesleyan University is the only four-year emergency management degree available in Kansas. Students gain the theoretical knowledge, practical skills and sense of duty to step in to save lives and protect property. Program tracks within the emergency management major include homeland security, business continuity and nongovernmental organizations. The major offers courses that can be taken online or on campus. KWU’s expertise in this field is gaining national attention, with Emergency Management Degree Program Guide naming the university among the “20 Top Emergency Management Bachelor’s Degree Programs Under $23,000 Average Net 2014.” Of those 20 top schools named, KWU’s degree was rated No. 8 for its quality, ahead of Arizona State University, Arkansas State University and the University of North Texas.

Booker was invited to be a panelist for the 17th annual Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium in 2015, hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute. His panel discussed emergency management program development and growth at colleges and universities.

Kansas Wesleyan University is located near Crisis City, operated by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, an unrivaled world-class, multidiscipline, multiagency training environment developed to enhance the state’s capability to defend against terrorism threats and respond to disasters and emergencies. The university enjoys strong partnerships with local, regional and national emergency management experts and organizations.

Kansas State Polytechnic was the second university in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree in unmanned aircraft systems, launched in 2009. Since that time, the program has nearly doubled its enrollment every year and to meet the demand, added a second bachelor’s degree in UAS design and integration as well as the UAS minor.

The program recently was named No. 2 on Drone Training HQ’s list of the “Top 20 Unmanned Aerial Systems Colleges in the United States” and was chosen as one of the Top 16 “Best Drone Universities” in the country by Dronethusiast.com.

The national recognition is a product of Kansas State Polytechnic’s exclusive accomplishments within the unmanned aircraft systems industry. In February 2015, Kansas State Polytechnic became the first entity in the United States to receive an FAA Certificate of Authorization for statewide access during flight operations. Recently, the program was awarded a nationwide certificate for public research operations.

In May 2015, Kansas State Polytechnic was among 20 universities across the nation, including the University of Kansas and Wichita State University, named by the U.S. Department of Transportation to an elite new group, the Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This alliance, called ASSURE, puts Kansas State Polytechnic at the cutting edge of UAS research in federally funded projects.

In November 2015, Kansas State Polytechnic became the first entity in the United States to receive approval from the FAA to provide UAS commercial flight training to both students and outside companies. The authorization, which is referred to as a Section 333 exemption, allowed Kansas State Polytechnic to create and conduct an extensive flight training program for unmanned aircraft operations.

And in May, it was announced that the Kansas Department of Transportation created a new position to direct UAS industry development in the state, with one of the post’s offices being located at Kansas State Polytechnic.

Kansas State Polytechnic is leading a variety of UAS research projects with outside partners, including the FAA and Westar Energy. The program has the most varied UAS fleet in U.S. academia, with a mix of more than 30 fixed-wing and rotary wing unmanned aircraft, or drones. Kansas State Polytechnic also boasts one of the largest enclosed flight facilities in the nation, allowing students to pilot their unmanned aircraft within steps of the classroom and UAS lab.

For more information on Kansas State Polytechnic’s academic UAS program, including enrollment, class options and the new emergency management minor, contact Most at 785-826-2681 or mtmost@k-state.edu. To inquire about UAS commercial flight training and research collaborations, contact Kurt Carraway, executive director of the UAS program, at 785-826-2624 or kcarraway@k-state.edu. Learn about Kansas Wesleyan University’s emergency management program by contacting Booker at lonnie.booker@kwu.edu or 785-833-4360.