UAS for Search and Rescue -- ACUASI Featured in RotorDrone

Excerpt from: UAS for Search and Rescue on

Looking through the Trees

When an autistic 11-year-old on his bike went missing with his dad’s rifle this past August, Alaska State Troopers had a problem. They couldn’t activate their normal search-and-rescue protocols because a gun was involved; they didn’t want to take a chance of putting search crews in danger. They instead called the University of Alaska
Fairbanks (UAF) for some unmanned aircraft backup.

The boy’s family lives in a thickly wooded area on the north edge of Fairbanks. Troopers knew they’d have a hard time locating the youngster if he didn’t want to be found. They discovered his abandoned bicycle and a probable campsite, so they believed they were on the right track, but blindly scouring the dense forest on a rainy day didn’t seem like the best way to search. So they contacted the university’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI, http://acuasi. to ask if it had an aircraft with thermalinfrared capability available.

Pilot Nick Adkins took the initial call. “We knew we’d want to support their search, so we started getting our gear together right away,” Adkins says. ACUASI Director Cathy Cahill agreed immediately. ACUASI’s airspace expert, Tom Elmer, got on the phone to the local Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) office to request the necessary authorizations, while pilots Adkins, Trevor Parcell, and Karen Bollinger assembled the components to fly a Ptarmigan UAS (unmanned aircraft systems), a hexacopter system initially developed by UAF engineering students. Once they were on the scene, Adkins and Parcell programmed the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to fly a grid over the area in which the troopers thought the boy might be, looking for heat signatures, while troopers searched on the ground. Bollinger acted as observer, spotting for hazards.

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Trees as viewed from above from a UAS