NOAA has begun testing unmanned aircraft in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary that could allow researchers to observe animals at relatively close range with minimal disturbance, and possibly locate marine debris in remote areas.
The test of the Puma system, which can fly lower and slower than manned aircraft and are much quieter, is taking place in and around the sanctuary through June 29 and is the first test of unmanned aircraft for use in the Olympic Coast.
During the test, the aircraft is launched and recovered from the research vessel Tatoosh. The test mission will demonstrate the aircraft’s camera resolution and allow researchers to explore the aircraft’s potential to support management of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex and other marine resource trustees.
“The primary objective of the tests is to monitor seabird colonies along the coastline and offshore islands of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary,” said Carol Bernthal, sanctuary superintendent. “We also plan to survey remote coastline and open waters for marine debris and other marine wildlife.”
The Puma is a 13-pound, battery-powered aircraft that can be hand-launched from any location on land or at sea from a boat and is controlled remotely. The aircraft can fly for up to two hours on a charge and cover a range of about 50 square miles.
If successful, unmanned aircraft technology could be used in marine protected areas worldwide.
Agencies throughout the state, including Grays Harbor, have submitted a proposal for a drone research and testing facility in Washington. The proposal provides a testing range over the Pacific Ocean near Grays Harbor for those developers needing “blue water” testing capability.
The final decisions for the flight center are scheduled to be made before December 31, 2013.