SUMMARY: Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be an extremely valuable asset for helping to survey and assess difficult environments such as wetlands. New drones technology includes amphibious UAS' that can execute missions no other aircraft can typically match.
PROBLEM: Mississippi State University (MSU) was faced with the monumental task of monitoring 25 square miles of the delta of the Pearl River -- historical river which runs through the heart of Mississippi and the south-eastern tip of Louisiana, boasting a meander length of 444 miles. The target area included vast wetlands which complicated UAS operations. Mission requirements included capturing high-resolution digital elevation models (DEM), multispectral imagery as well as water quality assessments. Additionally, the data would need to be updated every 60 days for the next 2 years, for comparative analysis.
SOLUTION: Funded by the NOAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program, MSU partnered with Altavian, a UAS manufacturer that had developed the Nova F7200 AE amphibious fixed-wing aircraft. To properly map 25 square miles of river, two teams were created, each with their own boat – the ‘Flight Team’ and the ‘Water Team.' As the Flight Team flew overhead, the Water Team collected water samples.
The research required a higher degree of detail than was feasible from manned aircraft altitudes and speeds, which would in-turn require a platform that could safely fly slower and closer to the river. Having the capability of a 90-minute flight endurance, the Nova allowed the team to cover a large amount of acreage as they followed the UAS around in the boat. The all-environment (AE) version allowed us to land the UAV directly on the water -- which was the only option in the marshy delta.
Ultimately, the team covered the entire 25 square miles by dividing the river delta into 19 flights – ranging from 650 acres to 1400 acres per flight. The team was able to successfully map the river delta in 3-4 days’ time, each trip collecting over 100GB of raw imagery – averaging just over 15,000 images taken.