After dark: Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus approved to conduct UAS flight operations at night

SALINA — The Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus is expanding its unmanned aircraft systems capabilities to now include flight operations after dark.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center, which houses the unmanned aircraft systems research program, has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct UAS flights at night. It was granted a special waiver because flying unmanned aircraft after the sun sets is currently not permitted under the FAA’s Part 107 rule – the regulatory framework for civil and commercial small UAS operations. In addition to the campus’s research sector, the night flight waiver will be utilized in commercial flight training courses and in forthcoming curriculum in the UAS degree option.

“Having the ability to fly unmanned aircraft at night is a significant asset to our program, adding another layer to the state-of-the-art training we provide industry partners and students and allowing us to retain our status as a leader in applied UAS research,” said Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center.

“Initially, the waiver request was motivated by an ongoing research project with Westar Energy,” Carraway said, “but its benefits will have an impact on a multitude of contributions this campus makes to the unmanned industry.”

Accompanying any research work that requires data collected by UAS at night is the authorization to instruct unmanned flight training classes after dark, both for professionals and undergraduate students. The Applied Aviation Research Center offers several different UAS short courses and is introducing night operations into its commercial remote pilot training course starting June 23. The course addition includes two hours of classroom instruction covering flight basics at night, necessary waivers and exemptions for night flight and how to set up a night operation. Following the classroom instruction, students receive one hour of hands-on night flight training using a S-1000 multirotor aircraft out in the field.

In undergraduate academics, Kansas State Polytechnic offers two UAS degree options and one minor, with the UAS flight and operations concentration requiring a series of multirotor and fixed-wing flight ratings as part of the curriculum. Faculty members are currently creating new training methods that would add night operations into one of the labs for the advanced multirotor course, giving students experience with mission planning, flight cues and recovery methods after dark.

“A key element of the way we train our students is exposing them to different scenarios that they might encounter in industry as they leave school, so the more situations you can introduce them to, the better off they are going to be,” said David Burchfield, UAS teaching assistant professor and degree option coordinator at Kansas State Polytechnic. “There are an increasing number of night applications for UAS, such as search and rescue, aerial photography and ag mapping, and as time goes on, students are more likely to be working in those conditions. It is just another tool in their tool box to take with them to industry.”

The UAS degree option intends to integrate night flight training exercises starting this fall.

To inquire about UAS opportunities with the campus’s Applied Aviation Research Center, contact Carraway at 785-826-7170 or [email protected] For professional UAS training offerings, contact Kansas State Polytechnic’s professional education and outreach office at 785-826-2633 or [email protected] To learn more about the UAS academic degree options, contact the campus’s admissions office at 785-826-2640 or [email protected]