K-State Aviation's Unmanned Aerial Systems Capability Growing to Meet Military, Industry Demand

Effort partners with military organizations and the private sector to focus on developing unmanned flight in the nation's airspace and training unmanned system pilots and operators.


SALINA, KS -- In only its first year, Kansas State University Aviation’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office is making significant strides in serving the growing aviation needs of military and civilian organizations, according to Kurt Barnhart, head of the Department of Aviation at K-State at Salina.

K-State is one of a very few universities in the country to offer training and flight services to the unmanned aviation industry, says Barnhart.

The Applied Aviation Research Center, which houses the Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office, opened in March 2008. The center, which Barnhart directs, began as a cooperative venture of K-State, the Salina Airport Authority and the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce.

Barnhart says the center has lived up to its charter to advance aerospace technology through the application of research capabilities in propulsion, airframe, avionics and aviation training. The center's first effort, the Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office, partners closely with military organizations and the private sector to focus on developing unmanned flight in the nation's airspace and training unmanned system pilots and operators.

"The capabilities of K-State's Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office are proving to be exceptional," says Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority. "K-State Aviation directly supports the military's growing requirements for our nation's war fighters in this emerging technology. "The Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office works very closely with a number of military units that base their equipment and soldiers at Salina to take advantage of resources at the airport and the proximity to the Smoky Hill Weapons Range for test flights and program development."

Barnhart says K-State's unmanned aerial systems capability revolves around three key areas: operational policies and standards; advanced avionics miniaturization; and unmanned aerial vehicle education and training.

K-State is establishing criteria for unmanned aerial systems flight operations, including activity at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range and eventually at the Herington unmanned aerial systems flight facility. The university program office establishes policies and procedures to enable both military and civilian organizations to fly and test at local facilities, says Barnhart.

"We have developed a good relationship with the Kansas National Guard and are deeply involved in supporting them as well as the Great Plains Joint Regional Training Center and Crisis City," he says. "We also partner with the private sector to demonstrate our operational experience and credibility with the Federal Aviation Administration to meet the needs of the industry. This capability includes working with Flint Hills Solutions to become a storehouse of knowledge about payload miniaturization technologies."

Barnhart says that K-State conducts recurring training for unmanned aerial vehicle operators, unmanned aerial vehicle maintenance training, air vehicle safe flight operations, and develops procedures for flight in the national air space system. The overall program aids emergency first responders in the civilian sector and the military in disaster scenarios applying the unmanned technologies to save lives and property.

Another project the Unmanned Aerial Systems Program office is involved with is the advanced avionics miniaturization program developed in partnership with Flint Hills Solutions of Wichita.

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