US Forest Service Tests UAS Technology

This past September, the Alpine Ranger District of the US Forest Service hosted the first Agency contracted Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) flight to evaluate forest health conditions. The primary purpose of the flight was to evaluate the effectiveness of using drones for Hi-Res agriculture analytics. The hyperspectral image products are being used to detect invasive species, bio-mass calculations, and tree counts. The test flight took place in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in the area of Hannagan Administrative Site and Hannagan Meadow.

The Forest Service has been exploring the possibility of utilizing UAS for a variety of natural resource management purposes for several years, and now has finally been implemented. The UAS was flown on September 13 and 15 to detect and map the extent of damaged vegetation, and to estimate biomass and other forest product quantities in the 200 acre area of the Hannagan Administrative Site.

The test flight was carried out with a Turbo Ace Matrix-E quadcopter piloted by Ryka UAS, the proprietary contractor for the aerial survey and data processing. Other partners in the project included: Forest Health Protection, Forest Management, Fire and Aviation Management, Remote Sensing Applications Center, Northern Arizona University, National Interagency Fire Center, and the Forest Service.

The primary purpose of the USFS project was to evaluate the proposal process for the entire Aviation Group. The US Forrest service plans to utilize UAS more frequently and has taken a big first step in taking advantage of the available technology.