UAF gets ready to test emergency medical supply drops with drones

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - A national initiative from the U.S Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the White House has expanded its scope of Alaska's unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilots Program to test the feasibility of delivering potentially lifesaving medical equipment to remote regions in Alaska.

"We are in some very special times in unmanned aircraft are coming, and it's exciting and UAF is at the forefront for bringing them into national airspace,” said Cathy Cahill, director for the center for unmanned Aircraft systems Integration.

UAF applied to the presidential UAS integration pilot program and was selected as a lead for the state of Alaska from over 100 applicants.

"So it's a wide conglomerate of technology partners, government agencies with the university as lead, so we are very very excited we got one," said Cahill.

In this particular case they are going to do a short flight from Indian to Hope across Turnagain arm.

"The airspace access that we have, the FAA has been very kind to us. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get the airspace. This particular airspace is cleaner," said Greg Foscue, program manager for the large aircraft Program at UAF.

They plan to test the Aircraft in the Spring of this year.

"In this we are going to demonstrate if the Seward highway got closed and Hope got closed off and we couldn't get to Soldotna. Could we get a medical device across the inlet quickly to help save a life?" said Cahill.

She says the opportunities could be endless helping lost hikers, helping emergency responders.

"So this is a huge step in that development and we are really excited about where it's going to take the state,” she Said.

The aircraft named Ptarmigan is able to fly up to 5 hours and 100 miles.

"It's a hybrid system, so it has a gas powered engine in it. It also has battery power, so it you have problems with the engine. It will actually fly for between 5 and 10 minutes on the battery in order to have a safe landing,” said Foscue.

The UAF team is working to pave the way for unmanned aircraft in the United States and the world.

Cathy Cahill will be speaking at the 'Free Science for Alaska' Lecture series February 26 with a presentation called Flying toward the Future - Unmanned Aircraft in Alaska."