By Tony LaCorte, Sr. Manager, Commercial Aviation & Training
First, some background: Insitu recently held the grand opening for its office in Starkville near Mississippi State University (MSU) to house some of the activities being carried out by our Commercial Business Unit. Now, some of you may be asking questions like “what does Mississippi have to do with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)?” or “What impact will Insitu have on MSU and the surrounding community?” or even “How on earth does Insitu intend to impact the UAS industry from a place many locals refer to as ‘Stark-Vegas’?”
Hopefully this article can provide a few answers to those questions.
Insitu is committed to working with our partners to continuously pioneer and innovate solutions for the safe integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS). Therefore, as Insitu continues to pursue commercial operations in the NAS, it is only logical that we combine the progress we have made in the UAS industry with the lessons learned from the corollary fields within academia. MSU has become the nation’s hub for research that will help the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) integrate unmanned aircraft into the domestic airspace safely and efficiently. MSU manages the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) program, which is comprised of 23 of the world’s leading research institutions and more than 100leading industry/government partners. The mission of ASSURE is to provide the FAA with the research they need to quickly, safely and efficiently integrate UAS into our NAS. Having an engaged and positive relationship with ASSURE gives us the opportunity to provide industry knowledge using our more than one million hours of flight experience to help shape the future of the UAS industry and create a safe environment for all air operators to fly.
I was surprised when I first arrived and noticed the extent to which the university had been involved with all types of unmanned vehicles and more so when I continuously overheard the excitement and curiosity surrounding UAS in discussions within the community. One of my first experiences with MSU was observing the Geosciences Department using small UAS to monitor hybrid cotton crops right outside my office window. The department also manages a fleet of marine UAVs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that are used off the gulf coast. What’s most impressive is the excitement of the students who participate in the projects that the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory conducts throughout the year, which include support at the Stennis Space Center and contracted government tests off of the gulf coast.
Currently, Insitu is leveraging its newly formed relationships with MSU to test key technologies aimed at facilitating the safe integration of UAS into the NAS. These technologies not only focus on Insitu’s commitment to custodianship of the NAS and its overall safety, but more importantly how we continue to live Insitu’s Why, or our purpose, by “pioneering and innovating in all that we do so that we positively impact people’s lives and change the course of history”. Our goal is to develop and implement technologies that guarantee the safe separation of manned and unmanned flights by detecting and avoiding.
The presence of UAS in Mississippi is more than just the efforts aligned with university studies and ASSURE. Recently MSU was awarded a contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It will essentially support homeland security operations and training by providing UAS flight and exercise support facilities aimed at evaluation of unmanned systems in a variety of applications and scenarios. As we continue to grow our relationship with MSU and the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, we will collaborate to utilize these test sites and other opportunities within the state to test our new technologies, perform aircraft certifications, and conduct the necessary training to make our commercial team successful.
Insitu’s presence in Mississippi allows us to carry on with our pioneering spirit. The collaboration between Insitu, ASSURE and MSU has limitless possibilities. When I think of our Why statement, I always gravitate to the part that speaks to positively impacting people’s lives. Here in Mississippi, I continuously see the excitement that is generated in the general and aviation communities and by our company just being present. I hope that the exposure to unmanned systems design, development and operations that we provide here in Starkville will inspire some within the community to pursue careers in STEM. It may also quite possibly trigger others who may not have made a decision on which path they would take after college, to seek careers in UAS aviation. We have an exciting opportunity to leverage the fearless and fresh ideas from rising MSU students who seek opportunities as interns or full-time employment as we continue to grow as a company. We also have a unique opportunity to combine Insitu’s industry experience with the academic research that has been accomplished to make a resounding and positive impact on the overall safety of the NAS. I am excited to help Insitu inspire a culture of safety, community and growth in the Starkville area moving forward.