Over the vast expanse of the smoldering Kenai Peninsula wildfire, a little unmanned aircraft spent nearly six hours picking up signs of hot spots and mapping fire boundaries.
It was early Friday morning. Launched by a catapult, the aircraft, called the ScanEagle, was on its first mission over a wildfire in nearly five years. On a private airstrip near Funny River Road south of Sterling, a team working with the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration hunkered down in a windowless trailer and directed its movements.
When the unmanned aircraft, or drone, landed around 8 a.m., it had found about 15 hot spots within the fire perimeter, information that went directly to officials deciding how to attack the 193,000-acre blaze.
It was an exercise in the applications of unmanned aircraft in public safety, officials said, and in maneuvering new regulations still early in their evolution.
“It really got some of the key people understanding that we can really help,” said Ro Bailey, deputy director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. “It’s not a toy or something like that. It’s actually something that can approve their ability to do a job.”
At the end of 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that Alaska had been selected as one of six sites to test the expanded use of drones for commercial and industrial purposes. On May 5, the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which is managed by the University of Alaska, gained clearance to start flying operations.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com