HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - From mapping hard-to-trek wetlands and densely vegetated forests to gathering imagery and data from infrastructure and construction projects, unmanned aviation systems are the safe, effective mission enabler for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations in civil works operations, military programs, and emergency response.
Over the last 10 years, the use of UASs within USACE has increased drastically. In 2014, there were only a handful of USACE organizations using UASs.
Today almost every USACE District, Center and Laboratory utilize UASs to support their missions, according to Ryan Strange, Huntsville Center Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Physical Scientist.
Strange said around 2017 the need arose for USACE to form hierarchical management of UASs as more and more USACE program and project managers began to understand the value of UASs.
“Now, every flight requires mission planning and a qualified operator along with detailed permissions, waivers, or authorizations depending on the airspace,” Strange said.
“Missions require a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration as most flights are conducted within controlled airspace; and require a certified pilot.”
Aviation operations is based on USACE Aviation policy, standards, training and oversight support which resides within Headquarters USACE Aviation and Remote Systems. The Aviation Program Office within HQ USACE staff is responsible for providing overall aviation management for USACE.
Management includes support and oversight on aviation operations, maintenance, and aircraft systems as well as program direction for aviation operations, most importantly, executing policy, standards, and training requirements.
Strange, one of the pioneers in USACE Aviation, assists USACE aviation operations and ensures compliance with Department of Defense policy, which is a vital service to USACE.
Currently, Huntsville Center provides staff and aviation reach-back support and coordination required to assist in the execution of aviation operations for all USACE UAS pilots and programs.
“HQ Aviation provides and implements world-class acquisition, standards, training, and oversight with minimal impacts on USACE operations with aviation safety as the primary consideration for all actions,” Strange said.
According to Strange, HQ Aviation has overseen the licensure and certification of hundreds of pilots flying thousands of UAS missions annually supporting USACE projects and programs around the world.
“Small, unmanned aircraft systems offer cost-effective surveying and data collections while providing new and improved tools and methods that enhance data collection and aerial imagery,” Strange said.
William Noel, a project manager with Huntsville Center's Ordnance and Explosives Design Center, agrees with Strange’s evaluation of UAS value.
One of the critical items Noel looks at is the distribution and concentration of munitions on a military training range so that contractors can work to maintain and clear the ranges. Noel’s team specializes in the construction and modification of military training ranges.
With the use of UASs, Noel has a detailed visual of where contractors can work safely.
“We can have a better idea of how much work the contractors are going to have to do on a range to clear and allow construction,” Noel said.