Just weeks after its designation as one of six federally-approved test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will conduct several test flights over South Texas ranchland to continue research and training on the RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test site designation, announced Dec. 30, is expected to bring other UAS researchers to the University’s Lone Star UAS Center to expand research on new applications and safe integration of unmanned aerial technology into the national airspace.
A&M-Corpus Christi has an established UAS program, including extensive airspace authorized by the FAA for UAS operations. The University also has established a UAS Command and Control Center at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center that will manage the 11 Texas test ranges. The University’s UAV, an RS-16, has participated in several missions since it arrived on campus in 2011.
While the test site designation does not come with federal funding, recent studies show an anticipated economic impact of $8 billion statewide, and $260 million in South Texas over the next 10 years; creating about 1,200 jobs.
During these missions, the drone will launch from a mobile operations center, fly east out of sight of ground observers, and will be monitored by a manned aircraft as it flies over Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Regulations require the drone remain under visual contact at all times.
Researchers will also continue training with the onboard multi-spectral camera that acquires video, ultraviolet and thermal images that can be used for mapping sea grass, monitoring pipeline routes, detecting wildfires hotspots or oil spills in the ocean, and counting livestock.
During the missions, the Command and Control Center back in Corpus Christi will continue development of the technology to track, monitor, and receive streaming video from the UAV and the mobile operations center at the launch site.
The successful FAA test site bid was a team effort among A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), Camber Corporation, the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute, the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, and other research institutions and private-sector companies.
About the UAV: RS-16
• Wingspan: 12 feet 11 inches
• Max take-off weight: 85 pounds
• Max speed: 65 knots
• Max payload weight: 25 pounds
• Max endurance: 12-16 hours