OSU Testing New Drone Concept at Tuttle High School

A member of Oklahoma State University’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute pilots a drone for an FAA feasibility test.

OSU researchers are currently using a drone to record data for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and doing so from Tuttle High School’s backyard. The FAA has a theory that drones could make navigational aid calibrations more efficient.

OSU started the Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI), lead by Dr. Jamey Jacob, in December 2015. A 1986 Mustang graduate, Dr. Jacob’s fascination with unmanned aircraft began when he was more interested in storm chasing.

“I first became interested in unmanned aircraft (aka drones) while working as an undergraduate to develop tornado chasers at OU. This led to a life-long interest in developing unmanned technology. However, the concept was way ahead of its time and it took 20 years for the technology to catch up to where we are at now, using these systems for projects we never dreamed of back then.”

Gary Ambrose is an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Director for USRI and is managing this project. He said OSU and the FAA have been working together for some time.

“We have been supporting the FAA for a while,” Ambrose said. “We built and integrated some UAVs with some electronics, collections equipment, on them. The FAA currently uses manned aircraft to do these navigational aid calibrations. Right now, we’re doing the first steps toward the eventual move to unmanned aerial vehicles for that, making sure it’s possible.

“They see a transition to unmanned vehicles eventually. There’s a cost-savings and efficiency means in the future, and we are just experimenting right now with the feasibility. We are actually flying a UAV to do that.”

A group of researchers with the university, USRI  held one experiment Thursday, June 14 at Tuttle High School, and will return in August. Ambrose and his research team will conduct this experiment on a regular basis.

After reaching out to Tuttle school administrators, USRI will provide some drone familiarity to Tuttle High School students when they return from summer break.

“We actually called up the school,” Ambrose said. “We wanted to do a STEM engagement. We’re going to be back in August and include the kids. It’s a series of flights so we’re down there every couple of months.”

A retired Navy pilot, Ambrose described what this drone will measure, and how this data collection will help airports.

“There are four different instrument landing systems we’re looking at right now,” Ambrose said. “One’s called a Localizer, one’s called a glide slope, one’s called a VOR, and one’s called DME.

“So, an airplane comes in on instrument landing. At every middle or large airport, there’s a localizer frequency that shoots out so a pilot can make an instrument approach. It just shows on their instruments where they’re at in relation to the runway. The DME is actually the distance they are from the runway. So, all these nav-aid signals are transmitted from airports and they use a fleet of aircraft to calibrate these around the U.S. and wherever the U.S. flies.”

Ambrose said the FAA chose OSU to conduct the study, because the university has a unique UAV engineering program.

“This is the first one in the country to give undergrad, graduate, and PhD degrees in UAS engineering, specifically. The school is definitely a pioneer.”

USRI chose Tuttle High School because of its proximity to Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and Will Rogers Airport.

“It makes it ideal,” the researcher said. “The actual reason we chose Tuttle was, specifically, to do science en gagement with the high school kids. The program’s not designed for that. The program is really designed to support the FAA. It’s real, applied research going on, but we thought it would beneficial to include the high school kids too. We’re already there doing it. Why not get them exposed to it?”

For more information about drones and OSU’s USRI program, go online to unmanned.okstate.edu.

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