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May 2019

NOAA UAS Program Briefing at the 3rd Federal UAS Workshop

Captain Philip Hall, Director of the NOAA UAS Program Office in OAR, was invited to provide one of several impactful briefings at this year's UAS Federal Workshop in May at NASA Ames, an event that was co-hosted by NASA and USGS. Commensurate with the goals of the workshop, the 3rd one in as many years, Captain Hall shared an overview of the NOAA UAS Program's many diverse activities and projects, highlighting its partnerships and efforts in working both within and outside of NOAA to accomplish common goals that will ultimately benefit society.  Other federal agencies were also in attendance and provided similar overview briefings, including but not limited to, NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Interior, U.S. Forest Service, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, U.S Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the primary goals of the workshop was to share lessons learned and update the audience on UAS policy issues, operational challenges, and upcoming opportunities on which this federal community either could or needs to collaborate. Opportunities to bring so many disparate agencies together provides opportunities to continue using partnerships to accelerate UAS-deployed sensors and provide CONOPS to fill important national observational gaps. By approaching these challenges with a whole-of-Government team, successes within our federal agencies can be leveraged to accelerate our national UAS enterprise. It also enables the group to focus resources on shared challenges and new opportunities. Furthermore, the annual workshop helps many of the representing agencies to explore how to respond to rapidly evolving emergencies like floods, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and hurricanes, and how to use new tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning to accelerate the rapid exploitation of collected UAS data.

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Shipboard Launch and Recovery of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Scientific Payloads


Measurements of vertical profiles of aerosol properties combined with meteorological parameters have primarily been limited to the use of manned aircraft which are expensive to operate and require extensive ground support. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) provide a means to obtain these measurements at much lower cost from ships and land based regions not easily accessed by manned aircraft. The lower cost of UAS operations allows for frequent flights as part of long term monitoring or during intensive field experiments. These observations will help to improve air quality forecasts including those related to emissions from forest fires and industrial activities. In addition, these observations will be used to improve and validate aerosol radiative forcing estimates computed with coupled chemical transport and climate models. The cost of repeated UAS flights relative to manned aircraft allows for statistically significant data sets of aerosol properties of the lower atmosphere (surface to 12,000 ft). In addition, these measurements address NOAA’s Long-Term Goals of improved understanding of the changing climate system and its impact on health of people and communities due to improved air quality.

In 2018 working with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), L3 Latitude was awarded a Phase II NOAA SBIR to ready the HQ-55 for commercial production. This UAS uses a Hybrid Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) – Fixed Wing (FW) technology to allow for autonomous launch and recovery from confined spaces without the need for a runway or catapult. Once launched, the UAS transitions to fixed wing flight with an endurance of up to 10 hours, a ceiling of 12,000 ft, and the ability to carry up to a 15 lb payload. The payload nose cone can be used to house different instrumentation dependent upon the mission. One of these payloads contains instruments for the measurement of total particle number concentration, particle number concentration as a function of particle size, aerosol light absorption coefficient, aerosol optical depth, and aerosol chemical composition. Dr. Patricia Quinn (PMEL) serves as the technical point of contact (TPOC) for the project. Successful test flights with the aerosol payload onboard the HQ-55 took place in April 2019 at the Florence Military Range near Tucson, AZ. An altitude of 7500 ft. MSL (9,300 ft. density altitude) with data from all functioning payload instruments recorded onboard.

With assistance from UAS Program Office, SBIR acceptance testing is planned to be conducted at-sea May 28 to June 1, 2019 with L3 Latitude’s HQ-55 (Figure 1). These first shipboard flights of the HQ-55 will take place on the NOAA RV Ronald H. Brown (Figure 2) during a transit from Woods Hall, MA to Charleston, SC. The goal of this acceptance testing and exercise is to continue to demonstrate the upgraded Hybrid Quadrotor (HQ) technology from a ship with limited deck space and to validate the moving baseline differential GPS and ship landing logic. The UAS will take off from the ship, switch to fixed wing flight, and return and land on the ship. This series of events will be repeated multiple times to build up experience with ship board operations. In addition atmospheric profiles are planned to be completed in the Area of Operation of the ship.

The ultimate goal is to transition “Shipboard Launch and Recovery of Unmanned Aerial Systems with Aerosol Payload Capabilities” from a research platform to a long-term sustained operational capability within NOAA/OAR with NOAA/OMAO providing logistical and asset support.

The next phase of research advancement is to expand on these successes and provide for an operational capability.  As part of this plan, NOAA will acquire the UAS which will be maintained and flown by NOAA’s Aircraft Opera

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Shown is a picture of the Griffon G2E Outlaw fixed wing UAS

Another One in the Books… NOAA UAS Science Team Completes Second Milestone Operation to Aid Hydrologists with Improving Flood Forecasts

For the second time in two months, NOAA's Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) and Mississippi State University's Raspet Flight Research Laboratory successfully executed UAS operations to provide data to the National Weather Service's (NWS) Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center (LMRFC). With funding provided by the NOAA UAS Program Office, and in response to expressed needs for aerial imagery by the LMRFC following a historic rainfall event, Dr. Robert Moorhead (Director of NGI and principle investigator of the “SHOUT4Rivers” parent project) and his team conducted operations of a large, “Group 3” UAS over vast areas of flooding near Greenwood, MS in February 2019. The primary goal for that first mission was to provide forecasters with critical information to indicate water level heights and show locations of inundation.  The data was transmitted in near real-time to the LMFRC office in Slidell, LA to help hydrologists update flood warnings and generate more accurate forecast products for use by emergency managers and the general public. “We were able to see the water as it rose over the course of two days, which helped our office confirm when the crest had been reached,” said Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at the LMRFC.

Now following those successful February operations, the crew was recently tasked with yet another important mission to help fulfill more NWS LMRFC data needs. With additional heavy rainfall events from March and April, exasperating flood conditions in several not-yet-fully recovered locations, the team was deployed this time to Greenville, MS, with operations taking place in a critical area along the Mississippi River in late April. As was the case with the previous operation, large swaths of areal imagery were mapped and will be mosaicked together before being sent to NWS forecasters in Slidell to provide them with actual inundation maps that will help them verify and update their models. This type of data contains a wealth of new information, going well beyond that of the individual water gauge point data that these forecasters must typically rely upon.

During this second mission, Dr. Moorhead's team was also able to achieve a few more accomplishments. In addition to executing operations from an entirely new base location, across the river at the Lake Village Municipal Airport in Arkansas, the crew maintained enhanced situational awareness by streaming and archiving real-time video directly from the platform. Also, with the mission taking place on what was an otherwise typically busy day for manned agricultural aircraft operations in the area, another big milestone demonstrated was the ability to seamlessly integrate the UAS platform into the take off and landing pattern there at an active airport. John Walker, a Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs contractor, supporting the NOAA UAS Program Office, said of the operation, “It was very interesting to observe how all of the local pilots and airport management staff really took to

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