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New aerial drones available to NOAA programs

An uncrewed aircraft pilot at a computer console

As we close out the first month of the new year, the Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division of the NOAA Uncrewed Systems Operations Center is rolling out a new initiative that will provide new drones, or uncrewed aircraft systems, to NOAA users. The initiative is designed to encourage the use of uncrewed aircraft systems and to establish new or expand existing uncrewed aircraft systems programs across NOAA.

Through the initiative the Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division will not only provide new uncrewed aircraft to NOAA programs, but they will also provide the necessary training, program management, and Federal Aviation Administration coordination to support effective uncrewed aircraft operations and new uncrewed aircraft capabilities within NOAA.

All uncrewed aircraft platforms available through the initiative are a part of the Blue Uncrewed Aircraft List developed by the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit to vet and scale commercial uncrewed aircraft technologies.

“The Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division is promoting this initiative to help change the mindset from traditional data collection methods, open opportunities and promote advancements through innovative project proposals that can benefit NOAA’s fleet of ships, aircraft, and scientific missions in exciting, safe and cost effective ways,” said Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division Chief Lt. Cmdr. Laura Dwyer.

Uncrewed aircraft systems can be a useful tool in gathering data to meet NOAA mission needs. They can make traditional data gathering more efficient and safer, allowing NOAA users to observe difficult to access areas.

The initiative aims to lower the barrier for NOAA programs to test and expand the use of uncrewed aircraft resources to support the agency’s mission in the atmosphere, oceans, and coasts. In total, the Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division received 46 project proposals from programs across all of NOAA. The winning projects were selected based on mission requirements.  The Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Division will be distributing 28 new uncrewed aircraft to the selected programs and provide training and support in the coming months to new uncrewed aircraft programs and operators. Keep reading to learn more about the programs and projects that will receive new uncrewed aircraft.

Selected Projects

Lead Program: National Centers for Environmental Information
Purpose: Train existing and new uncrewed aircraft pilots on a Blue Drone platform for the Riverwatch ice jam flooding mission in Alaska

Lead Program: Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Auke Bay Laboratory
Purpose: Install hyperspectral camera on a Blue Drone to gather ocean color data

Lead Program: Office of Law Enforcement
Purpose: Stand up an uncrewed aircraft program for fisheries law enforcement operations

Lead Purpose: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Antarctic Marine Living Resources Program
Purpose: Continue annual surveys of protected seabirds and seals in Antarctica

Lead Program: Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Marine Mammal Laboratory/Alaska Ecosystem Division
Purpose: Update uncrewed aircraft operations for Steller sea lion surveys

Lead Program: Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Purpose: Perform characterization of river habitats

Lead Program: Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Marine Mammal Laboratory
Purpose: Enhance monitoring and assessment of protected marine mammal species

Lead Program: Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Protected Species Division
Purpose: Perform health assessments and population monitoring of whales

Lead Program: Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center
Purpose: Evaluate use of Blue Drone UAS for protected species surveys

Lead Program: Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Purpose: Expand UAS fleet for protect species surveys

Lead Program: National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science-Hollings Marine Laboratory
Purpose: Perform bottlenose dolphin “blow” sampling and harmful algal bloom assessments

Lead Program: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Purpose: Support kelp monitoring, emergency response, as well as, landslide and marine debris assessments

Lead Program: National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science-Coastal Resilience, Restoration, and Assessment Branch
Purpose: Enhance research to support restoration of nature-based solutions and assess climate change impacts

Lead Program: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
Purpose: Support research, monitoring, and outreach work in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Lead Program: National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science-Kasitsna Bay Laboratory
Purpose: Perform habitat mapping to inform mariculture research, habit assessments, and fisheries management

Lead Program: Communications and Education-Studio Team
Purpose: Enhance NOAA video outreach capabilities

Lead Program: Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Purpose: Support National Marine Sanctuaries education and outreach

Lead Program: Weather Forecast Office-North Platte, Nebraska
Purpose: Support near-real time imagery and hydrologic surveys of ice jams and associated flooding and perform post-storm damage assessments

Lead Program: National Severe Storms Laboratory
Purpose: Perform tornado dynamics analyses and post-storm damage assessments; document field observations on severe storm research

Lead Program: NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
Purpose: Enhance community outreach and ship public affairs

Lead Program: NOAA Ship Fairweather
Purpose: Perform shoreline reconnaissance and gather promotional footage for the ship

Lead Program: NOAA Ship Pisces
Purpose: Enhance ship operations, assessments, and public affairs

Are you part of an interested NOAA office? Check out more information on the initiative on the Uncrewed Systems Operations Center intranet.

Photo: A certified uncrewed aircraft pilot operates an uncrewed aircraft for a NOAA survey. Credit: NOAA