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Small Unmanned Aerial Systems: A Future Trend in Aerial Observation

Russell Slater
Contributing Writer

The demand for miniature drones, or sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems), continues to grow as everyone from the U.S. military to law enforcement and private businesses seeks to use the latest technological advancements to aid their operations — and CAP is no exception.

Currently, 14 wings and 25 units are involved in field testing and training, with an eye toward establishing a full-fledged program in 2018.

Incredible potential
Aside from homeland security operations, sUAS have the potential for use in post-disaster response missions, rescue efforts, damage assessment and general aerial reconnaissance.

Maj. Austin Worcester, director of operations for the Missouri Wing and emergency services officer for the North Central Region, was a distinguished graduate of the advanced sUAS course last year at CAP’s National Emergency Services Academy.

“The sUAS program has an incredible potential,” Worcester said.

As an example, Missouri conducted a test to image a subdivision, simulating a post-disaster imagery response. Members were able to fully photograph the subdivision in 22 minutes of flight time, generating nearly 1,000 images.

The photos were then used to process and produce a geo-referenced, orthomosaic image of the entire subdivision within an hour.

“Using a FLIR-equipped sUAS could improve our ability to conduct night search and rescue, or even day SAR, and find missing persons or aircraft,” Worcester said.

Into the future‚Äč
Capt. John Webber, assistant emergency services training officer for the Indiana Wing, has studied the latest techniques and applications using sUAS technology and has helped pass that knowledge along to fellow CAP members. “This summer we had two weeks of small Unmanned Aerial Systems training at the Camp Atterbury Training Center in Indiana during NESA,” he said.

Webber, who works as an electrical engineer at AT&T Bell Labs, joined CAP 10 years ago and has attended NESA for eight years. “In 2017, I participated as a student and also assisted as an instructor for the basic mini-UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) class and advanced UAV class.”

He also instructed for a week at the NESA Center of Excellence in November, training 15 wing sUAS program managers from across the U.S. Webber has flown manned and unmanned aircraft since he was 16. “I fly for Indiana University’s Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Imaging, conducting research of unmanned aerial imaging solutions. I served as the director of operations for the cell tower infrastructure inspection. I have a passion for aviation and for CAP,” he said.

Plans are for CAP’s burgeoning sUAS program to expand and become a key resource for wings nationwide.

As members adapt to emerging technology and new training, small drones will most likely become a regular tool for CAP and other emergency services in future scenarios.

CAP Director of Operations John Desmarais believes small unmanned aerial vehicles are going to revolutionize the way members carry out their missions.

“They’re really changing how we do business,” he said. “There are some great capabilities in sUAS already, and new things are coming out every day that could help our missions, like IR (infrared) cameras to assist with search and rescue activities, as well as radio direction finding tools that will be very helpful.”

Desmarais said Civil Air Patrol’s goal is to at least have sUAS operational capability in every wing by 2020, adding he would not be surprised if CAP were to push to get at least one per incident command post, or more, down the line.

“It is so exciting to be at the beginning of such an exciting technology. I feel we are in the Orville and Wilbur Wright stages of sUAS,” said Webber. “I am so happy to be part of helping to develop the methods and procedures to take us into the future of aerial imaging collection.”

Capt. John Webber, left, of the indiana Wing provides instruction to Cadet Capt. Linus McFarland at NESA. McFarland is a member of the Wiesbaden Flight of the Ramstein Cadet Squadron in Germany, and one of many cadets interested in CAP’s sUAS program.