Now here is a University to attend, nine Scaneagles and an Aeryon Scout, cutting edge stuff!!
Ned Rozell | UAF Geophysical Institute
Some places in this world are just too dirty, dull or dangerous for human pilots to fly. An airspace in the latter category is anywhere near gas flares in Alaska’s oilfields. With only a few seconds of warning, flames blast high in the air from a network of pipes, releasing the stress of sucking oil from deep in the ground.
Greg Walker recently found himself taking a look these fire-breathing nozzles near Prudhoe Bay, but he was barely close enough to see them from where he stood. He instead watched a “flying king crab” that buzzed around flaming flare heads 50 feet above ground. The 2.5-pound flying machine captured video and digital images of the flares and their support pipes, some of them jacked by frost and needing repair.
Walker’s mission was to help oil-company workers for BP order expensive parts they need to replace during scheduled maintenance next summer. He used one of BP’s Aeryon Scouts, a four-propeller flying machine the company purchased for use on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP collaborated with Walker and his team because they are experts on operating unmanned aerial vehicles.
As the manager of Poker Flat Research Range, part of UAF’s Geophysical Institute, Walker is assembling a fleet of these tools — an enterprise that makes he and his team very busy.
After visiting Prudhoe Bay to inspect BP’s flares, Walker was off to Kodiak to fly the Scout over the shoreline. He wants to use the flyers to see how harbor seals react to launches from a rocket facility on Kodiak Island. This is after a summer in which he and his crew traveled to Prince William Sound to test the Scout’s ability to buzz over beaches to help crews plan oil spill cleanups, and out to Dutch Harbor to see how effective a larger, fixed-wing flying machine was for mapping gatherings of Steller sea lions.
The unmanned aerial vehicle business is on the rise in Alaska, as more agencies come to UAF to work with Walker and his crew at Poker Flat.
The university now owns nine Scan Eagles — 40-pound aircraft the size of California condors that the crew has used to map the boundaries of smoky wildfires and to count seals in the Bering Sea. There are also two of the lunar-lander type Scouts, two similar models with more propellers than the Scouts, and three smaller aircraft launched by catapult.