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When the Manned Aircraft System (MAS) is the Right Tool Instead of the UAS

When the Manned Aircraft System (MAS) is the Right Tool Instead of the UAS

There is no doubt the public safety Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) can be a very helpful tool for law enforcement, fire and rescue, and emergency management to use.

It occurred to me not that long ago while I was waiting for several hours for a UAS map to process, that it was actually something I could have captured and delivered in a couple of minutes from the airplane.

So that got me thinking about how to use the right aircraft for the right mission. Last year in North Carolina we had some horrible storms and flooding. The pictures below were just captured with the smartphone I had with me at the time when I was doing relief flights into Wilmington, NC.

Flooding in Wilmington, NC.

Near Burgaw, NC and the Cape Fear River.

What I heard later was some of the ground-based UAS teams had run into closed roads from water flooding and could only make it so far. We could not get the maximum use out of the talented drone teams one the ground.

So in 2019, the plan is to expand our aviation efforts and I hope to spend more time flying the airplane after disasters and shoot higher-resolution images like the one below.

Aerial public safety photo from Cessna 182 with Cannon 5D camera. Click on the picture to see the full picture.

In the airplane, I can fly higher and much faster to get a bigger view and cover substantially more area. In 30 minutes we can capture a line about 70 miles long and five miles wide.

This doesn’t make the airplane better for public safety aviation, just different and the most appropriate tool for specific larger area situations so the UAS teams can do great things in the shortest amount of time.

From the airplane, we can communicate with the EOC over our statewide public safety radio. We can also use the stupid simple solution of sending images immediately by circling a high-speed cell tower.

One issue I had hoped to solve was the ability to fly overhead public safety UAS teams and repeat their wifi signal back to a better tower so they could stream high-resolution video from remote locations.

While that may be technically possible, it’s not without a big investment and complexity.

My rule is to only use solutions that only have a few moving parts. Actually the fewer, the better. Complexity, in my experience, has rarely made the delivery of urgent information without issues or problems.

This year I’m really looking forward to flying the airplane to capture and send immediate images back to the state EOC so UAS teams can be best deployed.

My goal is to build a solution here that can be easily replicated by others.

Stand by.

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About Steve Rhode

Steve is an experienced and certificated UAS pilot and aircraft instrument rated pilot. He is also the Chief Pilot with the Wake Forest Fire Department and North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy.
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