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KSU Salina Campus Approved For Drone Flight Training At Night

Sean Sandefur
KMUW/File Photo

Kansas State University is expanding drone flight training at its Salina campus to include flying after dark.

Flying an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or drone, after the sun sets is against the law.

So it took a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to allow K-State to add night flight training for research and to its curriculum at the Polytechnic Campus.

Kansas State Polytechnic’s Applied Aviation Research Center houses the unmanned aircraft systems research program. Kur Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center, says now students and industry professionals can get experience operating a drone at night.

"Specifically what we are teaching them is some of the unique aspects of mission planning concerns, crew composition--you have to have a visual observer present--and depth perception is a little bit different," Carraway says. "Those are some of the things we expose the students to in this kind of environment so that they can make sure that their mission planning and operations are done with the utmost of safety."

UAS operations are limited to at or below 400 feet above the ground, so there can be obstacles in that area such as trees or power lines. Carraway says it's best for drone operators to survey a site in daylight before attempting night operation.

The Applied Aviation Research Center offers several different UAS short courses and is introducing night operations into its commercial remote pilot training course. The center is involved in an ongoing research project with Westar Energy.

The school plans to add night flight training exercises in its UAS curriculum this fall.

Carraway says law enforcement officers can use the night flight training to help them respond to crime and natural disasters.

"When it comes to first responders—police officers, firefighters, emergency management personnel—those scenarios don’t save themselves for daytime operations so being able to fly at night is something the industry is definitely demanding," Carraway says. "We now have the opportunity to provide safe training so they can get that experience with us initially and then take it out to the field to apply to their specific operations."

Carraway says night applications for drone use include law enforcement search and rescue missions, aerial photography, agriculture mapping and helping energy companies evaluate storm damage.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar

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