CASE STUDY: Drones Guiding Ships on Arctic Ice Exploration Mission


SUMMARY: Unmanned aircraft systems can be a useful tool in helping seaborne vessels navigate various arctic conditions. Drones can offer ships of all sizes the ability to conduct reconnaissance and other airborne missions previously unavailable to them.

PROBLEM: A workboat fleet was sent out this summer north of Alaska to retrieve massive anchors from mooring sites spread across the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, according to GeekWire. But navigating Arctic sea ice and fog can be a daunting prospect for even the most seasoned ship crews.

SOLUTION: On board the lead ship was a Flexrotor, a small craft that would serve as a guide for the joint mission by Aerovel, Precision Integrated and Fairweather Science. In a little over two weeks, the Flexrotor flew five flights totaling 19 hours, and guided the fleet through otherwise slow seas choked with ice. The seafloor gear was retrieved without incident and the ships headed for home weeks ahead of schedule.

“Flexrotor is in a class all its own for this sort of work,” said Matt Parker, Vice President, Precision Integrated. “Its small footprint makes onboard setup quick and easy; launch and retrieval are done with no disruption to the ship’s activity; and its long range and endurance are immensely powerful. This was the first genuinely sustained and economically successful mission for unmanned aircraft aboard ship in the Arctic. We’ll soon be doing many more.”

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