A fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has successfully tested a cloud-seeding payload during an experimental flight in Nevada.
Flown at Hawthorne Industrial Airport under the state’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site designation, the Drone America Savant aircraft reached an altitude of 400 feet and flew for approximately 18 minutes on Friday, April 29.
The Savant aircraft – named the “Sandoval Silver State Seeder” in honor of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s dedication to the state’s UAS industry – deployed two silver-iodide flares, thereby successfully testing and demonstrating its ability to perform unmanned cloud-seeding operations.
Led by the Desert Research Institute (DRI) – the nonprofit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education – and supported by the Nevada governor’s office of economic development, the first-of-its-kind project is helping Nevada address the ongoing impacts of drought and explore new solutions for natural-resource challenges, such as augmenting regional water supplies.
The research team combines Nevada entities DRI, Reno-based Drone America and Las Vegas-based AviSight.
“We have reached another major milestone in our effort to reduce both the risks and the costs in the cloud-seeding industry and help mitigate natural disasters caused by drought, hail and extreme fog,” explains Mike Richards, president and CEO of Drone America.
Drone America performed the test flight under an FAA agreement in partnership with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems. This flight was the first use by DRI of the Nevada test site’s Certificate of Authorization, which grants authority to operate the Savant at altitudes up to 1,200 feet.
AviSight performed aerial support with its manned aircraft, recording both infrared and HD video of the flight to support future system refinements and plans to conduct UAS flights beyond the visual line of sight.
With Drone America and AviSight, DRI researchers plan to create weather forecasts and conduct flight planning for manned and unmanned aircraft; conduct tests of cloud seeding operations using manned and unmanned systems, as well as existing ground generators; and estimate the effectiveness of UAS cloud-seeding applications across DRI’s current Lake Tahoe Basin operations area.
“Not only does this demonstrate the capabilities of the Savant,” says Amber Broch, chief engineer for the project and an assistant research engineer at DRI, “but it also shows the tremendous potential to use unmanned systems as tools for environmental science and innovative natural resource applications.”