The State of Alaska has an abundance of natural resources, but its vast size — over twice that of Texas — has provided significant challenges for the management and exploitation of those resources. Alaska has few roads, making aviation the only year-round way to access the farthest reaches of the state, including almost 200 rural villages. Alaska has become an aviation-centric state with six times more pilots per-capita than the rest of the nation. For the past two decades the Department of Defense has driven the extremely rapid expansion and deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for military applications. The race to transition these systems for civil commercial and scientific applications provides an enormous opportunity for Alaska to develop and exploit the benefits of this new technology; and Alaska is the best place in the country to work out the issues of separating and integrating the emerging UAS airspace from the existing National Airspace System (NAS).

Anticipating the importance of these unmanned systems for Alaska, the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF-GI) began aggressively experimenting with these technologies several years ago and is rapidly becoming a world leader in UASs. Most of the UAS development work has been carried out at the UAF-GI’s Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR), the nation’s largest land-based rocket range and the only one in the country owned by a university. The UAF-GI has flown a variety of in-situ and remote sensing instruments on several types and sizes of unmanned aircraft at multiple locations in Alaska (and around the globe) for applications including: resource mapping; monitoring marine mammals; fighting forest fires; mapping glaciers and sea ice; and many more. The use of UAS eliminates the need for pilots in the cockpit and UAS are especially well suited to applications that are dirty, dull or dangerous.

The 2012 Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act addresses the issue of creating a UAS airspace and integrating it into the NAS and provides for the establishment of six separate UAS Test Ranges around the country aimed at safe implementation of these new technologies for commercial and scientific applications.

Recognizing the important future benefits of UASs for Alaska, in 2012, the State of Alaska appropriated $5M in the Capital Budget for the UAF-GI for “Research and Development of Unmanned Aerial Systems” and to help position to the UAF-GI to compete for one of the new UAS Test Ranges. This appropriation supplements the significant external funding received by UAF-GI from a variety of federal and non-federal sources that currently supports the core efforts and personnel of the proposed center.


Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning


SNAP and ACUASI partner to share staff, expertise in GIS and data processing/management, office space and collaborations with researchers and customers of UAS data.

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