‘Oklahoma, Where the drones come flyin’ down the plain..’

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Perhaps it’s time to modernize the classic titular song from the musical Oklahoma!:

Oklahoma, where the drones come flyin’ down the plain,

Oklahoma, where FAA permits sure smell sweet


Last month, Oklahoma State University teamed up with Vigilant Aerospace – provider of the FlightHorizon situational awareness and detect-and-avoid system – to launch one of the first beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone flights across a 13-mile long corridor in central Oklahoma after obtaining a special FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA).

The certificate allows OSU to waive rules requiring drone operators to keep their aircraft continuously in line-of-sight. The authorization is one of the few certificates – currently only 29 similar ones – and is the second one for OSU.

The partnership plans to test new concepts that will “enable long linear inspection operations and remote surveying flights,” according to a press release. “These linear flights are required for pipeline, utility, road and bridge inspections and for monitoring remote assets like oil and gas wells and farm and ranch operations.”

Using a fixed-wing Anaconda drone, the flight launched from OSU’s Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station under the command of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI).

Vigilant deployed its FlightHorizon GCS system to provide detect-and-avoid and airspace situational awareness services for the inaugural flight.

FlightHorizon tracked the UAV during its three-mile outbound and three-mile return flight while simultaneously tracking 17 manned aircraft. The program then shared the data in real-time with the pilot-in-command over the duration of the 13-minute flight.

USRI Director and OSU Professor Jamey Jacob said:

“This new authorization offers us an opportunity to develop flight processes for infrastructure inspections and to develop solid, research-based solutions for control and safety during these flights. This COA is an important milestone and we will be conducting crucial research and development work with our commercial partners to accelerate the integration of drones into the U.S. national airspace for these kinds of flights.”

Vigilant CEO Kraettli L. Epperson said the company plans to “integrate new sensors into the flights, like micro-radar, and to use its new FlightHorizon PILOT automatic detect-and-avoid (ADAA) system on-board the aircraft to demonstrate autonomous avoidance.”

“Establishing this process will allow us to really unlock the economic value of drones to perform autonomous industrial missions.”


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