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NMSU Physical Science Lab tests unmanned aircraft over active mine

New Mexico State University?s Physical Science Laboratory Unmanned Aircraft Flight Test Center acquired a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to perform aeronautical research on an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) over an active open pit mine in central Colorado.


Unmanned aircraft system flies through a blue sky.
New Mexico State University?s Physical Science Laboratory recently conducted tests with a SenseFly eBee unmanned aircraft system over an active mine in Colorado. (Courtesy photo by Zachary Aaron Balge)

In conjunction with NewFields LLC, the team used the SenseFly eBee sUAS, a small flying wing weighing less than two pounds. The eBee UAS flew a total of 6.4 hours over three days.

?The goal of these flights was to develop procedures to survey mine sites without impairing the safety of mine personnel or affecting mine operations, including 90-ton haul trucks,? said Dennis Zaklan, NMSU Physical Science Laboratory Senior Security Manager.

Multiple visual observers were used to provide the pilot?s eyes for non-participating aircraft collision avoidance. The second visual observer provided situational awareness to advise the pilot in command of haul trucks and other vehicles coming up the road to the launch and recovery area.

One visual observer was stationed with the pilot in command and assisted with ensuring the immediate location was clear of non-participating persons and vehicles, while the second visual observer was stationed on an overlook point 300 feet higher and .25 nautical miles away.

This higher vantage point provided the visual observers with a 360-degree view enabling the visual observers to observe for incoming aircraft. This location enabled the visual observers to monitor the main road coming up to the launch area.

The visual observers were able to provide the pilot in command with time call outs between haul trucks so that the UAS was able to safely launch and recover in between the trucks.

Over the course of the three days of flight operations, procedures continued to be refined and tuned following reassessments of each flight.

?Another goal for this project was to test the accuracy of the survey datasets produced by the eBee in a mine environment,? Zaklan said.

Real time kinematic GPS was used to collect ground control data at 20 points within the survey area. These ground control points will be used to calibrate the survey input data and validate the accuracy of the datasets produced by the survey. Knowing the accuracy of the survey datasets will allow mining engineers and operators to determine appropriate applications for eBee survey data.