Texas UAS Test Site provides flood assistance for state

By Emily Aasand | June 02, 2015

Following heavy flooding that destroyed more than 400 homes and caused four deaths in Wimberley, Texas, a Texas-based unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research site has been dispatched to conduct low-altitude research flights. The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will conduct the flights. 

The team will perform real-time aerial searches for missing persons, livestock and vehicles, said Jerry Hendrix, chief engineer for the LSUASC test site and leader of the research team.

“We will survey land areas, including bridge and critical infrastructure and roadways,” said Hendrix. “It will be a general aerial assessment of damage due to storm and flooding.”

The test-site team of three people will be based at a private ranch about five miles north of Wimberley and will use an AscTec Falcon 8 provided by HUVRData of Austin, Texas, equipped with high-definition video and thermal-imaging cameras and multispectral sensors; a senseFly eBee provided by Urban Engineering of Corpus Christi equipped with a 16-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel near-infrared camera; and a DJI Phantom quad-copter provided by A&M-Corpus Christ’s iCORE Lab and the University’s College of Science and Engineering equipped with a 16-megapixel video camera and a forward-looking infrared camera, according to the test site.

The research “will assist in determining the process for use of UAS as a rapid-response tool in natural emergencies and the value of operating at 200 feet or less for aerial surveillance under such conditions,” Hendrix said.  

“Our hearts go out to those who have suffered great losses in Hays County,” said Flavius Killebrew, president and CEO of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “We are making every effort to support recovery efforts there with tools we believe will be of value to state and local emergency-management personnel.”

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recently authorized its six UAS test sites to conduct small UAS flights anywhere in the U.S at altitudes less than 200 feet. The new authorizations also let the test sites fly various types of UAS under a single Certificate of Authorization, making it easier to conduct research missions, the FAA said. The FAA believes the changes will “provide more opportunities for research that may help the agency integrate UAS into the nation’s airspace more quickly and easily.”

“This new authorization gives us a great deal of latitude in assisting state agencies as they test UAS capabilities in fulfilling their statutory missions,” said Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research, commercialization and outreach at A&M-Corpus Christi and interim executive director of LSUASC. “Our test-site program has been designed by the FAA to support government agencies and private-sector companies as they safely integrate UAS into their operations.”


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