Unmanned Technology Research Continues at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi with South Texas Test Flights

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi continues its preparations to be fully operational as one of only six federal test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with another series of test flight missions planned for the week of March 10 in South Texas ranchland.

Researchers will run missions twice a day with the University’s RS-16 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and another UAV on loan from American Aerospace Advisors, a Pennsylvania-based company that helped the University customize its RS-16 and often provides mission command personnel during test flights.

The second UAV has a different set of specialized equipment the University will be testing. The two UAVs will not fly at the same time.

The University’s Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a test site in December. That designation is expected to bring other UAS researchers to the South Texas 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 Mission 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 UAV 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 that 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 Mission 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

About the College of Science and Engineering: The College of Science and Engineering offers cutting-edge programs supported by award-winning faculty deeply-invested in education and the growth and continuation of knowledge from one generation to the next. As one of the leading institutions for coastal, marine, and environmental research, the College is committed to maintaining an academic environment in which students develop as dynamic professionals who will make significant contributions to society. The College is the academic home of faculty endowed by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, one of the foremost leaders in the support and advancement of the long-term use and conservation of the world’s ninth largest body of water. The College also houses the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science, a center of geospatial research and coastal monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico and the Center for Coastal Studies, recognized internationally for research in harmful algae and their toxins.

About Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi: Offering more than 60 of the most popular degree programs in the state, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has proudly provided a solid academic reputation, renowned faculty, and highly-rated degree programs since 1947.  The Island University has earned its spot as one of the top research institutions in Texas and supports two marine-oriented Ph.D. programs. For more information, go to http://www.tamucc.edu/.