By Patrick C. Miller | September 15, 2016

ISight RPV Services will next month begin test flights with its ADS-B-equipped unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and an ADS-B manned aircraft through the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in northeastern North Dakota.

The company—based in Grand Forks, North Dakota—last month conducted the first successful flight in the state of its fixed-wing Altavian Nova 7200 equipped with a miniaturized ADS-B device made by uAvionix.

Adam Lingwall, ISight RPV co-founder, said although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) won’t require manned aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B until 2020, testing manned and unmanned aircraft using the system will not only improve pilot situational awareness, but also help pave the way for beyond-line-of-sight operations for UAS.

“Part of our mission is to ensure safety in all of our operations,” Lingwall said. “Implementing ADS-B, although not required by the FAA, greatly enhances our ability to keep ourselves and other aircraft flying safely.”

Funded by Research ND through the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the project’s primary objective is developing techniques, devices and methods to aid in a risk and safety assessment for performing beyond-visual-line-of-sight UAS operations supported by ground-based detect-and-avoid capabilities. Lingwall said these could be marketed as a distinct service for UAS operations.

“Once beyond-line-of-sight flying is allowed, ADS-B could be a major safety component for integrating UAS into the national airspace,” he said. “We’re looking ahead to what will be allowed in the near future.”

Lingwall also said ISight also recently won a grant from the North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Council to conduct a project in the Bakken oilfields of western North Dakota. The company will be working with ONEOK Inc.—a gas pipeline and processing company headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma—Barr Engineering, an engineering and environmental consulting firm in Minneapolis, and the Unmanned Application Institute in Grand Forks.

Beginning in October and lasting through the end of the year, Lingwall said ISight will be flying its UAS over pipeline right-of-ways to monitor reclamation work. He said the project will provide high-fidelity images for use in developing signature images of potential problem areas to create an image library for ONEOK.

Initially operating under a Section 333 exemption, ISight has conducted missions for wind turbine inspections, precision agriculture, post-storm crop damage assessments and infrared detection for wildlife management surveys.