Texas State Approved For Use Of UAV Drones In Research

Nicole Barrios The University Star

Texas State is among the 63 entities the Federal Aviation Administration recently approved to fly drones in U.S. airspace.

The River Systems Institute at Texas State is conducting unmanned aviation research under a $260,000 two-year grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Thom Hardy, research professor at the River Systems Institute, said the university is using the grant to evaluate the use of drones as a potential cost-saving and safer alternative to manned flight operations.

“It’s a doorway to research that relies upon remote sensing, but it’s much cheaper and we don’t have the risk of pilot and observer in the plane,” Hardy said.

The drone is a battery-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is 7 feet wide and weighs 8 pounds, can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour and is equipped with GPS, batteries and digital cameras.

James Tennant, chief UAV pilot at the River Systems Institute, is a prior Air Force guidance and control specialist and flies the drone aircraft.

“Sometimes it’s a bit nerve racking because the airplane is very small, and when you have a small airplane it’s highly affected by winds and other environmental factors,” Tennant said.

One year into the grant, Hardy and his crew have used the drone to track bird habitats in Galveston Bay and the growth of invasive tamarisk, a salt cedar plant, on Texas rivers, among other research.