Did you know that the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ drone program, also known as the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI), has just been selected to lead one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s eight new BEYOND program sites?

In 2018 the FAA picked UAF as one of ten programs out of 149 applications to help find ways to advance flight techniques and capabilities that will better serve the state’s diverse needs. The drone research program accelerates that effort. The Alaska BEYOND team includes a diverse group of 27 partners across the state and nation, including the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Foundation Health Partners and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

ACUASI’s research focuses on increasing the distance a drone can fly from the pilot or controller. The further a drone can fly from its pilot, the more useful it becomes. Since drones can access areas that humans cannot, they are ideal for search and rescue situations, as well as for delivering emergency supplies to remote locations. UAF drones are used for operations including critical infrastructure monitoring, marine and land mammal surveys, sea ice modeling, atmospheric sampling, wildfire surveillance and tidewater glacier mapping.

Since the program’s inception in 2001, it has grown, gaining financial support from a multitude of public and private sources, including the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research. The Center of Excellence funding alone currently provides more than $1.3 million for research at UAF, and ACUASI expects another $1.3 million from the program by late spring.