Drone Industry Aids Red Cross in Hurricane Harvey Response

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The FAA has issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey.  But the Red Cross unmanned aircraft response team, organized by professional drone photography company PropellerHeads, is flying under an FAA COA in coordination with the Texas Air Operations Center and Unified Command to provide vital overhead views of the disaster.

Kraettli Epperson, CEO of industry-leading flight safety provider Vigilant Aerospace,  has joined the team with Vigilant’s FlightHorizon solution to provide air safety services for unmanned aircraft operations as flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey continues to devastate the area.

“In an emergency like this, it is great to have eyes overhead to help map out safe routes and work with ground crews in search-and-rescue efforts. We are glad to be able to provide services that help the disaster response crews in the face of this massive, natural disaster,” said Epperson.

Epperson, an FAA-licensed Part 107 unmanned aircraft pilot, is currently in Houston working with the disaster response teams. He is operating the situational awareness and detect-and-avoid system for the drone flights.  “The big advantage of the FlightHorizon approach in incident response is that it is highly portable, can be run on a laptop with a small antenna to cover a large operational area and can provide immediate situational awareness for most aircraft. Because it uses existing air traffic control protocols and infrastructure, it requires no coordination or authorization to provide instantaneous integration for unmanned aircraft into the airspace,” said Epperson.

“FlightHorizon software uses data from standard aviation transponders and radar, when available, to provide a 2D map-based view and 3D synthetic cockpit view of national airspace and full sensor fusion across aviation transponders, radars and online data feeds,” says Vigilant. “The system is designed to help operators maintain flight safety, provide aircraft alerts and warnings, and provide specific collision avoidance commands, when necessary.”

The Red Cross unmanned aircraft response team is a welcome story for the drone industry, which rallied immediately to offer help to hurricane response teams and victims.  While some drone operators chafed at flight restrictions, hoping to support response efforts by providing overhead images, the FAA and the Texas Military Dept. have asked operators not specifically authorized to fly over the area to stay grounded.


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