Unmanned Air Systems Operations at Penn State

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This site is the central point for all parties interested in operating Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) under the auspices of Penn State. Penn State has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate under a restrictive Section 333 waiver (see below for details) but will soon be able to operate under the FAA’s Part 107 rules, taking effect 29 August 2016. An unmanned aerial system consists of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) together with the supporting equipment to operate it, i.e., the ground station. UAVs are also commonly referred to as drones, and the terms are mixed interchangeably below.

This site is a work in progress as Penn State works to fully implement on-line programs to track pilot training and qualification, flying site qualification, air vehicle qualification, and operations tracking. Those wishing to fly now under the current restrictions should contact Dr. Michael Yukish, Penn State’s UAS Operations Manager, at uas-orp@psu.edu. Also, you can follow the UAS Operations Blog, which provides a running commentary on the programs and policies as they are assembled and offers a means to give feedback through the comments section.

History of UAS Operations

Prior to summer of 2015, UAS operations (drone flying) were essentially unregulated. The FAA, in response to the proliferation of UAS and the increased number of incidents, stepped in to regulate operations and required commercial drone operators to request special permission to operate and to comply with very stringent procedures. The FAA’s website for UAS is an information-rich site, and a rapidly moving target as the country works through the business of how to safely fly drones.

Penn State petitioned for an exemption to operate UAS in July 2015 (Regulatory Docket No. FAA-2015-4639), shutting down all UAS operations while waiting for approval. Penn State received the Grant of Exemption on 10 February 2016, Exemption No. 14751, which opened the door to resuming flight operations, but significant effort remained to ensure compliance. Penn State created a formal set of processes to ensure compliance with pilot training & qualification requirements; air vehicle (AV) requirements; flying site requirements; operations standardization; and an overall process for planning, tracking, and reporting flight operations. These processes are now in place, and Penn State can fly drones under tight restrictions, outlined in the Penn State UAS Operations Manual, the Pre-Mishap Plan, and the Flight Preparation Checklist. All are in version 1.x, and are soon to be replaced. Those wishing to fly right now should should contact Dr. Michael Yukish, Penn State’s UAS Operations Manager, at uasops@psu.edu.

New Part 107 Rules Take Effect August 29, 2016 

The FAA has been preparing a new set of rules, Part 107, which will allow Penn State to operate in a much more flexible manner. The rules are an excellent balance of allowing operators to flexibly achieve their UAS goals while ensuring public safety; summary of rules. The new rules go into effect on 29 August 2016.

Penn State will be updating the Penn State UAS Operations Manual and supporting documents with a Version 2.0 to be released in mid-August.

Formal UAS Program Into the Future

The fundamental purpose of all Penn State policies and procedures is to run safe, efficient, and effective UAS operations. To that end, our program will be addressing pilot training and qualification, air vehicle qualification, site qualification, and how we plan, track, and report our operations. The ultimate goals of the UAS program here at Penn State will be to

  • Ensure compliance with all regulatory requirements
  • Execute UAS operations safely, efficiently, and effectively
  • Provide guidance so operators can get into the air as painlessly as possible

More Information

Contact Dr. Michael Yukish, Penn State’s UAS Operations Manager: uas-orp@psu.edu

Follow the UAS Operations Blog  

Penn State UAS Operations Manual, Pre-Mishap Plan, and Flight Preparation Checklist