Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary CINMS) / Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technologies (CCUT) staff supported the field testing of a Planck Aerosystems "Shearwater" sUAS aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Shearwater (Figure: 1) and the salvage vessel Danny C (Figure: 2). in the Santa Barbara Channel July 29 - 31, 2019. The project was funded by the NOAA OAR UAS Program Office. In participation were LTJG Nicole Chappelle from the NOAA OMAO Aircraft Operations Center Co-PI Alan Jaeger from the US Navy and project PI Todd Jacobs of ONMS CCUT. The goals of the project are to evaluate the Shearwater UAS's capabilities to safely and reliably take off and land autonomously from moving vessels and to be operated in a tethered mode, where it can stay in the air for extended periods. The Shearwater UAS was able to successfully take off and land autonomously in relative wind up to 21 knots and from the R/V Shearwater at speeds up to 18 knots. The tethered mode was also successfully demonstrated, but at lower wind speeds.
The autonomous take-off and landing capability is thought to reduce risk and will require less operator proficiency when operating from boats. The tethered mode may eventually support incidents such as whale disentanglements and could serve as a data or communications relay during oil spills or other emergency operations.
The next phase of the project is to support NMFS and NOS by providing aerial imagery to manta ray tagging teams ~100 miles offshore at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary from August 5 - 8, 2019.
A third phase of testing and Shearwater UAS operator training is planned for December 16 - 20 to be conducted in concert with the annual whale disentanglement training in Maui, HI, which will be hosted by project co-PI Ed Lyman at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
These evaluations will be reviewed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), (CCUT) and OAR UASPO and will be used to determine whether one or more Planck Aerosystems "Shearwater" UAS will be purchased by the agency and transitioned to routine operations.