After First Commercial Flight, Other UAS Types Advance

Yamaha RMax unmanned helicopter

With the first commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) now accomplished, at least two other potential certification efforts are under way for unmanned aircraft that would fly at opposite extremes of the airspace if the Federal Aviation Administration approves them.

On Monday, the FAA announced that ConocoPhillips conducted the first agency-approved commercial UAS flight on September 12 when it launched an Insitu ScanEagle from the research vessel Westward Wind in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. The energy company plans to use the aircraft to monitor whale migrations and ice flows.

The FAA granted restricted-category type certifications for the ScanEagle and the hand-launched AeroVironment Puma AE on July 19, for the first time allowing operators to use them for commercial purposes. The certifications limit the operations to remote, Arctic airspace.

In a recent interview, Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s UAS integration office, said Yamaha Motor Corporation has approached the agency’s Los Angeles certification office concerning its RMax unmanned helicopter, widely used in Japan for agricultural spraying. Yamaha and the University of California-Davis are collaborating on a research project and started field testing the helicopter in November at the university’s Oakville Experimental Vinyard, located in the Napa Valley winegrowing region.

In March, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International released a UASeconomic impact study that identifies precision agriculture, including remote crop monitoring and precision spraying of pesticides and fertilizer, as the most promisingU.S. commercial market for unmanned aircraft. “Yamaha is researching the market to determine opportunities in the U.S. for agriculture usage of the RMax,” a company spokesman said in response to an AIN inquiry.

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