ACUASI in the News

Defense Department military, civilian leaders tour Geophysical Institute

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A calendar.01/16/2024

Top Department of Defense civilian and military leaders visited the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute in late August and learned about the numerous ways the institute’s facilities and researchers support the nation’s defense in the Arctic.

Undersecretary of Defense Heidi Shyu visited on Aug. 24, and Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom, commander of the Alaskan Command, visited on Aug. 30.

“The visits by such high-level Defense Department officials provided another opportunity to showcase all that the Geophysical Institute and its people have to offer in service to the public, and that includes activities related to national defense,” Geophysical Institute Director Robert McCoy said after the visits concluded.

Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, toured the Geophysical Institute’s home building at UAF. She also visited the Fairbanks airport at the hangar of the institute’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

Shyu is the department’s chief technology officer and is responsible for the research, development and prototyping activities throughout the department. She also oversees the activities of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency and the Defense Innovation Unit.

UAF Chancellor Dan White gave an overview of the university at a morning presentation. UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Nettie La Belle-Hamer then broadly described UAF’s research areas. McCoy informed Shyu and those traveling with her about the institute’s capabilities, facilities and some of the work it does with the Defense Department.

Shyu visited the institute’s Alaska Satellite Facility, Alaska Earthquake Center and the Wilson Alaska Technical Center. She also visited the Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility, which is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers off campus.

FAA Keeping It Cool When the Heat is On

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A calendar.01/12/2024

It takes a lot of collaboration to fight wildfires. The FAA is testing systems to make sure firefighters, first responders and nearby pilots can share timely information to ensure a safe airspace during wildfire fighting operations.

“There’s a lot of aviation activity,” said Collin Roche, manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) projects at the FAA. “With unique traffic patterns for firefighting aircraft operating around a wildfire as well as the presence of general aviation and commercial aircraft in nearby airspace, it can become a bit of a beehive.”

Keeping airspace safe around wildfires requires complex coordination among air traffic controllers and pilots of different types of aircraft, including helicopters, C-17s, and, more recently, drones. Adding to the complexity are the different entities fighting fires, such as local and state firefighting departments, medical first responders, and the U.S. Forest Service. Air tactical group supervisors, positioned above wildfires, manage fire traffic and offer situational awareness to firefighting aircraft and other pilots who may be flying nearby.

Palmer’s airport to be test center for unmanned aircraft, support technology

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A calendar.12/13/2023

The University of Alaska Fairbanks, or UAF, will establish an unmanned aircraft technology facility at Palmer’s city airport, university and Palmer airport officials say.

The university has been engaged for over a decade in research and development of unmanned aircraft systems for public and commercial use and is now expanding its range to other areas of the state.

Air carriers have used automatic pilots for years on flights as an aid human air crew, but what’s envisioned now is aircraft operating under the control of a ground-based pilot or even autonomously.

In Palmer, discussions are underway with owners of hangers at the city’s airport and a lease is expected to be signed in a couple of months, according to Dr. Catherine Cahill, director of the UAF’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

Equipment is already being purchased for the facility although a hanger has not yet been selected, she said in an interview.

How Cold is Too Cold to Drone On?

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A calendar.10/26/2023

My New England-born parents taught me how to handle winter weather by prepping my vehicle (good tires, plenty of wiper fluid, full tank of gas, and clean all the snow off) and shoveling like a New Englander (early and often!). Thanks to them, you won’t find me rushing out for bread and toilet paper when the forecast predicts snow. There’s a similar amount of proactive preparation required for cold-weather drone operations. Weather is always a factor for aircraft, including drones — clouds, fog, or strong winds could leave you grounded. As the temperatures drop, there are even more factors to consider before takeoff.

Cold air can affect your drone’s battery. Starting a car with a cold-soaked battery can be hard. Drones are no different, as their lithium polymer batteries are greatly affected by cold weather. The colder the ambient air is, the slower the electrochemical reaction will be for any system. Slower movement equals more effort to create the same level of power required by the draw of the electronic speed controllers connected to the power distribution board. Think about cranking the engine of a cold car, especially with an older battery. It’s the same with drones and their batteries. Cold temperatures also increase the internal resistance of the battery, which can lower the battery’s capacity. The exact temperature ranges depend on the chemistry of the batteries, but basically, colder weather equals less power.

Cold weather can also impact the electric components in DC systems. The colder it is, the slower these systems will function. The effect may be minimal, but as the energy transfer from component to component slows, it degrades the overall flight duration.

Alaska Aims to Be Undisputed Drone Capital of the World

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A calendar.08/15/2023

ANCHORAGE—According to Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who kicked off Alaska’s inaugural Global Autonomous Systems Conference here last week, the state has three key ingredients to skyrocket it to drone domination: its people, the place and the policy.

The multi-day event attracted close to 200 attendees, most of whom traveled from afar to the 49th state with hopes of doing business there. These highlights from the event showcase what make Alaska uniquely situated to propel the drone industry.

Global Autonomous Systems Conference wraps up

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A calendar.08/14/2023

The first Global Autonomous Systems Conference, with about 300 attendees and 100-plus speakers, closed Friday, Aug. 11 in Anchorage. Final comments came from University of Alaska President Pat Pitney and Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Director Cathy Cahill, who announced the conference will be held again in 2024.

Drone program attracts national attention

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A calendar.08/09/2023

The University of Alaska and the State are hosting a three-day international drone aircraft conference in Anchorage starting today. It will showcase how uncrewed aircraft can respond to emergencies, haul freight and gather scientific data. Recent test flights have proven drones can replace traditional piloted planes.

Autonomous flights completed in Alaska show potential for future of air cargo, aviation

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A calendar.07/14/2023

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) – The world may still be a few years off from fully automated land and air travel, but that’s not stopping a Boston-based company from exploring its potential in a place that critically depends on the aviation industry.

Merlin Labs, in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for UAS Integration and Everts Air Cargo, recently completed 25 separate test flights of a Cessna 208 Caravan equipped with an autonomous flight control system called the Merlin Pilot. Each flight departed from Fairbanks International Airport and landed in one of five rural communities across the state — Fort Yukon, Galena, Huslia, Tanana, and Prudhoe Bay.

Merlin Successfully Completes FAA-Contracted, Alaska-Based Flight Trials For Nation’s First Air Cargo Network Flown by a Non-Human Pilot

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A calendar.07/06/2023

Merlin, the aviation technology company developing the world’s most capable pilot to advance the future of automated flight, today announced it successfully completed 25 test flights in Alaska following a $1 million contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to demonstrate a highly-automated flight control system in conjunction with a safety pilot. In partnership with the FAA-designated University of Alaska Fairbanks UAS Test Site and Everts Air Cargo, the test flights reached rural areas using crewed aircraft augmented with its integrated hardware and software solution, the Merlin Pilot.

Alaska DOT&PF launches ARROW drone program to assist communities during emergencies

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A calendar.05/01/2023

Ten remote communities will have ability to use UAS for disaster response.
(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) – Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) is launching the Alaska Rural Remote Operations Work Plan (ARROW) Program. ARROW is an innovative initiative that will greatly improve emergency response capabilities in rural Alaskan communities. By providing Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) and access to a shared geographic information system (GIS), communities will be better equipped to respond to natural and man-made disasters, protecting critical infrastructure and ensuring the safety of residents in these remote areas.

The program is made possible through a US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grant Program, a competitive grant program that funds projects using technology interventions to solve real-world challenges facing communities today.

In addition to funding provided by USDOT, the ARROW Program leverages a strategic partnership between the Federal Aviation Administration’s BEYOND Program and Alaska Center for UAS Integration (ACUASI) allowing DOT&PF and community partners to begin utilizing UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for critical infrastructure inspection.

ARROW will enable remote communities to conduct BVLOS missions using UAS, allowing them to collect critical data for a shared statewide GIS. The data will be used in response to natural and man-made disasters affecting critical infrastructure in historically underserved communities. This is particularly important in Alaska, where many remote communities are vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and extreme weather events.

University of Alaska, Gov. Dunleavy announce inaugural conference

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A calendar.04/19/2023

The University of Alaska and Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that the University and State of Alaska will host the inaugural Global Autonomous Systems Conference (GASC) in Anchorage on Aug. 9-11, 2023. GASC is a three-day gathering that will include presentations from worldwide experts, conversations among policy and industry leaders, and opportunities to connect with visionaries in autonomous systems. The convening is sponsored by the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. ACUASI is one of the nation’s top drone research programs.

ACUASI working with Merlin for First Air Cargo Network Flown by Non-Human Pilot

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A calendar.04/12/2023

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded Merlin, the leading developer of safe autonomous flight technology for fixed-wing aircraft, a $1 million contract to demonstrate a highly automated flight control system in conjunction with a safety pilot. In partnership with the FAA designated University of Alaska Fairbanks UAS Test Site and Everts Air Cargo, the Merlin Pilot will be the first autonomy system integrated into the NAS. Flight trials will run along three test routes serving five destinations. All test routes originate from the FAA designated UAS Alaska test site in Q2 2023.

New hangar will make Nenana a base for drone cargo testing

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A calendar.04/12/2023

Nenana’s airport will be the site of a new 4,800-square-foot hangar for the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. The hangar will serve as a base for drone cargo test flights between Fairbanks and the small city 54 miles to the southwest.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents approved $3.3 million for the hangar on Feb. 24. ACUASI is a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

ACUASI has been using the city-owned Nenana airport regularly for test flights and wants the city to become a part of an Interior drone testing hub. The airport does not have any available hangars.

Construction is expected to begin before June 30 and be complete in early fall. The university will lease land from the city.

‘Airborne object’ response builds on UAF, military partnership

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A calendar.03/16/2023

Robert McCoy, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, was driving to the movie theater in Fairbanks on a Saturday in mid-February when his cellphone showed an incoming call.

It was from someone with the Department of Defense’s Alaskan Command, a person he knows well. The caller had a request: Could the Geophysical Institute help search for the remains of an airborne object shot down by an Air Force fighter jet over Alaska’s Arctic Ocean seven days earlier?


FAA Issues Special Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Waiver to Alaska

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A calendar.03/02/2023

ANCHORAGE, Alaska) – Alaska is the first state to be able to grant permission for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to operate and test with the aim of securing certification for national airspace flight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the waiver this week, which was requested by the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) in late 2020. Alaska is now the only state with the ability to allow UAS operations classified as research or development, including aircraft under 300 pounds, to be conducted in our UAS test-site airspace.

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