Nevada’s cloud-seeding drone research recently flew the longest unmanned, cross-country round-trip flight in state history. Drone America’s Savant cloud-seeding drone reached an altitude of 1,500 feet and completed a one-hour beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight that covered 28 nautical miles.
Flown at Hawthorne Industrial Airport under Nevada UAS Test Sites Certificate of Authorization (COA), the flight was led by the Desert Research Institute (DRI).
“Today we demonstrated without a doubt that our unmanned cloud seeding technology and capabilities can move beyond line of sight – a significant hurdle in this industry,” says Adam Watts, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project and an assistant research professor at DRI. “Most importantly, we have done this safely and in following all FAA regulations and guidelines.”
For more than a year a DRI-led research team, supported by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development through the Knowledge Fund, has been working to develop an cloud-seeding drone capable of helping communities address the ongoing impacts of drought and explore innovative solutions for natural-resource challenges such as augmenting regional water supplies.
Savant cloud-seeding drone team, including staff from DRI, Drone America, AviSight, NIAS, and the Hawthorne Industrial Airport.
“Reaching this milestone allows us to now focus on higher altitude, longer distance flights; as well as the extreme challenges of flying our advanced unmanned fixed-wing aircraft in the harsh, icy weather that come with optimal winter cloud-seeding conditions,” said Mike Richards, President and CEO of Drone America.
The field operation was supported by multiple ground-based safety officials and visual observers.
“Hawthorne offers an ideal location for BVLOS testing for both small and large UAS (greater than 55 pounds),” says Chris Walach, Ph.D., Director of the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site. “And, when combined with the NASA tested BVLOS drone flights at one of the Nevada UAS Test Sites late last year, this again demonstrates Nevada’s foremost capability to lead and support the nation’s UAS industry and help advance BVLOS techniques and procedures that can eventually lead to safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.”
The FAA recently approved BVLOS drone flights at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota. The test site became the first in the United States to allow drones to fly BVLOS without a chase plane. The approval applies to larger drones, but it could trickle down to smaller drones for lower-altitude applications.