Saturday, December 4, 2021

Unmanned Aircraft Operations Soar at Salina Airport

By Melissa McCoy

As Army Blackhawks sat ready on the ramp, K-State Skyhawks practiced touch and go’s and SeaPort Airlines carried passengers to Kansas City, K-State students and faculty launched their own operation from a parallel runway on the Salina Municipal Airport.

UAS Chief Pilot Kirk Demuth took a running start and launched a K-State built Crow while UAS Chief Mechanic Richard Brown stood ready with a hand-held controller, as the Piccolo UAS autopilot piloted the small craft and two students monitored the video feed from the ground.

This airspace integration exercise is just one of the many hands-on operational experiences available to Wildcats in the UAS bachelor degree program not only on the airport but at the Kansas National Guard Smoky Hill Weapons Range Restricted Area R-3601A.

KSLN is one of only a few U.S. towered airports where UAS operations are conducted in Class D airspace. The UAS operations are conducted by means of an FAA certificate of authorization issued to K-State.

“We are planning routine operations throughout the year to support airspace integration,” explained UAS Director Josh Brungardt, who monitored the mission from the air traffic control tower. “Salina air traffic controllers have been very supportive. We are working together to develop integration procedures.

K-State is one of the first two Universities in the U.S. to offer a Bachelor of Science in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Our program uses a hands-on approach for learning and attaining the skills needed to safely operate and manage UAS — it’s what sets K-State apart from the rest.

K-State Salina’s proximity to accessible restricted airspace creates an ideal setting for learning to fly unmanned aircraft. The Smoky Hills Weapons Range gives students the ability to gain hands-on flight experience. K-State Salina is also one of only a few universities with authorization to fly UAVs in the National Airspace System.

The mission of the K-State at Salina Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO) is to facilitate and promote the safe incorporation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System above Kansas and beyond. We use our experience operating, and maintaining aircraft to operate, within the National Airspace System to establish operational guidelines, policies, and procedures and provide for operator training for Unmanned Aerial Systems to fly within the state of Kansas.

We also work closely with private contractors, government, and government-affiliated agencies to ensure the safe realization of the Kansas UAS concept of operations.