First in Flight: Unmanned Aircraft Conducts Aerial Survey at Airport

DAA and Altavian team preparing for flight

It is all about synchronization! For the first time in Virginia, an unmanned aircraft conducted an aerial survey, launching and recovering from an airfield, in a remarkably coordinated effort by the airport staff, flight crew, and Draper Aden Associates.

DAA and Altavian collaborated to conduct an aerial survey for Faulconer Construction utilizing a fixed wing small un-manned aircraft system (sUAS) at the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport in Blacksburg, VA. Coordinated efforts between flight operations crew and the airport manager played an important role in maintaining safe operations.

aUAS in flight over the airport

The process included filing a notice with the Federal Aviation Authority’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). A NOTAM is a notice filed, 72 hours in advance, with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the safety of the flight.  Combine that with the efforts between flight operations crew, ground observers, airport management, weather notifications and active aviation communications on CTAF (air-to-air communications frequency for non-towered airports) and you have a lot of moving parts.

“It’s about integration, not segregation,” said Darren Goodbar, Director of Aerial Services for Draper Aden Associates. “By regulation we have to yield, of course, to all manned aircraft. Using a sUAS at or anywhere near an airport involves a tremendous amount of pre-planning, but properly coordinated it is an outstanding tool.”

Topographic data collected from flight

Two flights, conducted at 300 and 400 feet above ground level (AGL), collected over 3800 photos, in about three hours, that are accurate to 2cm or better after survey techniques are applied. The data captured will provide topographic data for construction measurements to Faulconer Construction.

Using the sUAS dramatically reduced interruption to airport services and construction timelines increasing both safety and efficiency. The pre-planning may seem like a lot, but in the end it’s worth the effort.