The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday it has started testing unmanned aircraft systems at a fifth test facility.
The site, based out of Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y., will operate at least until February 2017 and will focus on evaluating drone-based scouting methods for agriculture uses.
The FAA granted the airport permission to operate UAS at the test site through its two-year Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), which allows a PrecisionHawk Lancaster Platform UAS to be used. The device, which is equipped with different types of visual, thermal and multispectral sensors, weighs in at three pounds and has a wingspan of four feet.
The research into agricultural fields will “enhance current methods of monitoring crops and provide additional information for continuing field research efforts,” a release from the FAA said.
Agricultural research is the site’s primary project, and in addition to flying over farmlands, the drones will also be used to detect the presence of insects, weeds, diseases, crop characteristics, crop biomass and background soil characteristics, according to the release. The UAS will not be allowed to exceed an altitude of 400 feet and will not be permitted to fly longer than an hour.
The site will also manage research flights from Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts, but no official timeline was established in the release. In addition, the Griffiss team will work with the FAA to develop processes for testing and evaluation in advance of the FAA’s regulations on commercial and recreational UAS. The Rome site is the only FAA-approved UAS test location to be located at an airport, so the site will also be used to address the complexities of integrating the airspace between traditional aircraft and UAS.
“The data the Griffiss team plans to acquire and share will help the FAA in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested Northeast airspace,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.
In addition to the Griffiss site in Rome, other test facilities have already opened in North Dakota, Alaska, Nevada and Texas, with a site due to open in Virginia in the future. Each site focuses on a different area of UAS integration, as well as a particular application of drone technology.
“We are accomplishing two important missions with the launch of this test site,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS is our number one priority, but the agricultural research performed in Rome also may have far-reaching benefits to farmers in New York and across the nation.”