FERNANDO DEL VALLE | STAFF WRITER
PORT MANSFIELD — From inside a trailer Thursday, researchers operated a drone that climbed to 3,000 feet, capturing images to help draw the line between private and public boundary disputes.
The team from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi used a pneumatic catapult to launch the RS-16 aircraft at about 2 p.m. from Charles R. Johnson Airport, sending the 13-foot unmanned aircraft vehicle, or UAV, on a flight over the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre.
At the university’s mission control center in Corpus Christi, a team of researchers tracked the flight.
Up in the air, the drone collected data that’ll help researchers compare its imagery with shoreline surveys to determine property lines that could help settle private and public boundary disputes.
The drone is equipped with a high-definition video camera, an ultraviolet camera and infrared camera, said David Bridges, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who serves as director of the university’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center.
Since October, Port Mansfield has become the top launch site for the UAS center, a landmark program that’s one of six in the country.
“It’s a turning point in the history of aviation,” Ron George, senior research development officer with the university’s Office of Research Development and Commercialization, said of the technology.
In December 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration picked Texas as one of six states to launch drone test flights after university researchers spearheaded a statewide proposal that led to the selection.
Port Mansfield’s sparsely populated location near the Gulf of Mexico has made it the Texas program’s busiest launch site, George said.
The Lone Star program’s job, George said, is to help pave the way for safe UAV operation in national airspace.
Once airspace opens to unmanned aircraft, studies project the developing industry would generate a statewide economic boon of about $6.5 billion, creating 8,256 jobs from 2015 to 2025, officials said.