Catch & Release
Geophysical Institute purchases unmanned aircraft system
August 4, 2006
It only weighs about 40 pounds, but the Insitu A-20 will provide a hefty boost to a variety of research projects throughout Alaska.
The Insitu A-20 is an unmanned aircraft, and it was recently purchased by the University of Alaska Fairbanks for research out of the Geophysical Institute’s Poker Flat Research Range. It has a 10-foot wingspan and can fly for more than 20 continuous hours, allowing it to scan areas that can be difficult for a human pilot to reach. An operator on the ground controls the craft by computer.
Among the uses for the Insitu A-20 are wildfire mapping, trans-Alaska oil pipeline security, and large mammal mapping, said Poker Flats manager Greg Walker. UAF students, faculty and outside users can submit applications to use the robot for research.
Operating the Insitu A-20 opens new areas of opportunity for Poker Flats, which is best known for launching research sounding rockets in the winter. The Insitu A-20 can operate during the summer.
“This endeavor provides the University of Alaska a novel platform to launch completely new startup research, while enhancing relevant educational opportunities in a new and growing industry,” Walker said.
The Washington-state company Insitu developed the A-20 and is collaborating with the University of Alaska to help refine the product. Alaska’s vast, uncongested airspace provides the ideal testing ground with unlimited hours of flying potential. It also affords the opportunity to see how the robot operates in a northern climate.
Insitu will work closely with Poker Flats over the next three years to supply training, technology upgrades and assistance in identifying uses for the plane.
Poker Flat Research Range is located 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway. The first rocket was launched from the facility in March 1969. Since then, more than 1,800 meteorological rockets and more than 300 major high-altitude sounding rocket experiments have been launched from the range. The range is owned and operated by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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