Nearly 40 people from Jacksonville District and other federal agencies were able to witness the award-winning Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system during a demonstration on September 5 near St. Augustine.
Jacksonville District UAV Program Manager Larry Taylor says the demonstration had two main goals: offer an opportunity for potential customers to see the aircraft in action, and help allay any concerns officials with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have in reviewing documentation requesting “airworthiness” certification for various areas of the state.
“Sometime, you can talk all you want,” said Taylor, “but people have that ‘ah-ha’ experience when they see something perform.”
Taylor has seen the UAV program really start to take off (pun intended) over the past year. The program now has three people assigned to it full time. It continues to receive support from all levels of leadership, including Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alan Dodd, who attended the demonstration.
“I was really impressed with this capability and with the professionalism of the team,” said Dodd. “I also like that Jacksonville District is leading the charge nationwide on this project.”
The UAV captures and records accurate, high-resolution data for a variety of uses, to include monitoring changes in ecosystems, monitoring of construction projects, and monitoring of water systems. It can be launched from land or from water.
“It’s the first aircraft I’ve seen that’s all-weather,” said Lance Filler, Airfield Damage Repair/Modernization Program Manager from Tyndall Air Force Base, who is looking at using a UAV if the runways at his facility are ever damaged from war or natural events. “Right now, we put guys on a vehicle and it takes them hours to look at all of the airfield pavement. With remote sensing (that is offered by the UAV), we’re hoping to do it in under 30 minutes.
Additionally, Taylor says the demonstration really helped enlighten officials with the FAA, which issues Certificates of Airworthiness (COAs) authorizing the team to fly the UAV over projects around major metro areas like Miami.
Within 24 hours of the demonstration, Taylor was discussing a pending COA application with the FAA in Miami.
“It was the input from the FAA person who was at the demo who swayed the day and explained to the guy from Miami that what we were trying to do was not going to jeopardize safety in Miami airspace at all,” said Taylor.
It’s been a busy year for the team, as Taylor says they are flying more missions and getting more funding.
“Right now we are continuing to march,” said Taylor, “we are getting new customers; we are expanding existing customers. We’re also trying to deal with how we’re going to meet our increasing demand.”
The work of the UAV Team has caught attention within highest levels of the Corps. In August, the UAV program was presented with the Corps of Engineers Team Innovation Award.
“It was very comforting to me to know that the hard work the team has done received some recognition because it’s a unique operation we have,” said Taylor. “It’s an operation the team created out of nothing. We had a vision to be able to develop and make many Corps’ operations better. To see that going from concept to idea to actual implementation is pretty rewarding.”