The FAA’s pursuit of joint research efforts on unmanned aerial systems use in populated areas and beyond line of sight highlights both the weaknesses and potency of UAS threats to helicopter markets. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) May 6 at the Unmanned Systems 2015 show in Atlanta, Ga. The agency’s CRADA with cable news giant CNN will focus on UAS use in populated areas. CNN's platforms for that work will include Drone Aviation’s WATT-200 tethered drone, which is designed to stay stationary at 150 feet or so above its launch point. In addition to connecting the aircraft to its control station, the tether can bring it power from a generator on the ground and enable it to stay aloft for hours, compared to flight times counted in minutes for battery-powered small UASs. “The holy grail for us is flight time and a TV-quality camera,” said Greg Agvent, CNN’s director of news operations, at the announcement. That’s good news for electronic newsgathering helicopter folks. On the other hand, the FAA’s CRADA with BNSF Railway is focused on assessing beyond-line-of-sight UAS operations to support its rail-track inspections. The railroad has track stretches that run hundreds of miles in “dark country”—sections not covered by its signaling system, said Gary Grissum, BNSF’s assistant vice president for telecommunications. “To get inspection crews out there, we have to fly them by helicopter,” he said, noting that successful integration of longer-range UASs could reduce that transport requirement. BNSF has not yet selected an unmanned platform for its CRADA work.
Related: UAS News, FAA News