NORFOLK, Va. – Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Mid-Atlantic (NAVFAC MIDLANT) Real Estate Business Line (REBL) recently conducted its first Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) flight at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina.
The team, which consisted of NAVFAC MIDLANT REBL team members Richard Allahar, Supervisory Land Surveyor and certified UAS pilot; Sheila Hutt, Cadastral GIS Specialist and certified UAS pilot; Kate Zuskin and Susan Jarvis, Cadastral Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialists; Troy Wolf, Georeadiness Project Manager; Tracy Wamsley, GIS Manager; and Megan Monachelli, Realty Specialist, – over a period of three days – used a UAS to fly and survey more than 5,000 acres from 400 feet above ground level to collect aerial photographs of the area.
Due to advancements in technology, this was also the first time any Department of Defense (DoD) installation has been able to capture high-resolution images, which will ultimately help the team to better manage its real estate assets and plan for the future.
To fly the UAS, Allahar and Hutt had to obtain a Part 107 Class – Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Drone License, which included piloting experience under the direction of a licensed pilot, the completion of a Visual Observer Training Course, knowledge of project planning and associated software applications, and passing an in-person examination conducted by the FAA. Part 107 licenses don’t expire, but a UAS pilot must retrain every two years to keep their certification current. Four additional team members are in the process of completing their pilot training.
“Many of our installations are large (greater than 5,000 acres), with perimeters (greater than 50 miles), that make it difficult to access by land, especially when many of the boundaries are along bodies of water,” said Allahar. “The UAS program gives NAVFAC the ability to review these sites, assess the condition of our assets, make recommendations, and monitor potential encroachment issues.”
The NAVFAC REBL UAS Program began in June 2020 as a way to take advantage of modern UAS technology in aerial photography to meet the specific needs of the command, the team, and its clients. In August 2021, the program was fully vetted and approved by Naval Air Systems Command, and the UAS vehicle was approved by the DoD in June 2022.
Upon approval, the team wasted no time to get out into the field to start working. UAS operations provide a platform that can achieve relatively large-scale aerial coverage in a fraction of the time – at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft surveys – and without many of the associated safety or security risks.
“Bottom line, this cutting edge technology produces many important byproducts,” said Allahar. “… the result is a huge cost-savings for the command, vice sending out survey crews or using traditional aircraft-collected imagery.”
The UAS surveys also have many advantages, including:
• It’s easily deployed where access is hindered due to obstacles
• The surveys are repeatable and can be stored for future review;
• and it meets the REBL team’s requirement for survey-grade accuracy
The UAS is a radio-controlled, battery-powered, fixed-wing vertical take-off and landing vehicle – where a runway isn’t required for takeoff – that is capable of flying 59 minutes (approximately 400 acres), depending on the flying conditions (wind and weather). It has a wingspan of 4.1 feet, weighs approximately 8 pounds, and has a 42 megapixel camera. The UAS vehicle can be alternatively equipped with a horizontal camera for orthomosaic imagery, an oblique camera for 3D rendering and visualization, and/or an infrared camera for thermal imagery.
“The UAS survey-grade data imagery will clearly identify boundaries to help us prevent encroachment and jurisdiction issues,” said Matt Kurtz, REBL Director, NAVFAC Atlantic.
NAVFAC MIDLANT is currently conducting boundary surveys at six installations within its area of operations. Following the boundary surveys is the Boundary Management Plan, which requires a UAS flight to collect appropriate aerial imagery every three to five years, or as deemed necessary for operations/construction purposes. Although MCAS Cherry Point was chosen as the team’s first location, they anticipate conducting additional UAS flights at other Navy and Marine installations in the coming year.
NAVFAC MIDLANT provides facilities engineering, public works and environmental products and services across an area of responsibility that spans from South Carolina to Maine, and as far west as Indiana. As an integral member of the Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic team, MIDLANT provides leadership through the Regional Engineer organization to ensure the region’s facilities and infrastructure are managed efficiently and effectively.
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