Interior Department Invests in VTOL Drones

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The U.S. Interior Department will soon be using drones to protect the nation’s natural resources and to handle emergencies.

New Hampshire-based Birdseyeview Aerobotics won a federal contract to provide 50 vertical-takeoff-and-landing fixed-wing drones to the federal agency that oversees millions of acres of public land and administers several monuments.

“These new fixed-wing aircraft are another weapon in our arsenal as we remain committed to preventing the spread of catastrophic wildfires,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zi­nke. “The UAS program continues to leverage technology to fight fires in safer and more efficient ways to ensure we are protecting the public, local communities and the men and women on the fire line.”

Weighing less than 10 pounds with a five-foot wing span, the drones can carry an array of modular sensors and have an aerial ceiling of 12,000 feet; they can also handle 25-knot winds.

“Since its initiation in 2006, DOI’s UAS program is the recognized leader in safe and responsible use of UAS technology for our many land management programs,” said Harry Humbert, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Safety, Resource Protection, and Emergency Services. “The addition of this new aviation capability fulfills an important facet of DOI’s UAS Integration Strategy, so the scope of critical missions supported by UAS will increase.”

DOI’s Office of Aviation Services is responsible for Department-wide functions related to aircraft services and facilities. The drone program supports DOI bureau mission needs with a combination of fleet aircraft and contracted commercial aircraft, and data services. In 2017, DOI flew nearly 5,000 UAS flights across a wide array of missions across the U.S. In 2018, DOI is predicting at least a 50 percent increase in UAS flights, due in part to the addition of this new fleet capability and the expected award of a commercial UAS services contract later this spring.

While the department uses drones, officials have also limited some consumer/commercial drone operations. In October, the FAA and Department of Interior launched a new policy to restrict unauthorized drone flights at certain federal sites including:

  • Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY
  • Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution), Boston, MA
  • Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
  • Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
  • Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
  • Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
  • Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
  • Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA


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