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Getting the Drone Off the Ground

by Stefanie Senkow
November 29, 2018

CGA DroneNEW LONDON, Conn. -- Meet the newest addition to the Coast Guard Academy’s science department – the FireFLY 6 Pro, also known as the Academy’s first official drone.

Purchased this past semester, the FireFLY 6 Pro is in its trial phase, spearheaded by First Class Cadet (1/c) Mary Carr, who has taken the lead on getting the drone up and running.

”My interest in this project began with my geographic information system (GIS) class. I explored utilizing drones for the Coast Guard, specifically regarding aids to navigation. I created a travel pathway for a hypothetical drone to see if it could verify all the buoys in the Thames River in 45 minutes,” said 1/c Carr. “Now that we have the actual drone here at the Academy, we can start by performing some test flights and determining the limitations of the drone.”

The benefits of implementing drones for use in aids to navigation will further the Coast Guard’s technological advances as well as save the Coast Guard time and resources. And the first steps into that research are being taken at the Academy.

”To manually verify the buoys in the Thames River would cost the Coast Guard a lot of man power. Checking 42 bouys would take about 5 hours in transit and 8 hours of manual labor, not to mention becoming a 2-day undertaking,” said 1/c Carr.

To eventually test this project and more, 1/c Carr has been hard at work on getting the FireFLY 6 Pro off the ground, literally. After getting her remote pilot license and assembling it and downloading the tracking and planning software, she works on communicating with the drone, assessing appropriate flying weather conditions and contacting the air traffic controller in neighboring town Groton to get clearance to fly the device.

“Our first flight was successful a few weeks ago, we just have some reprograming and adjustments to make with the steering as of right now,” said 1/c Carr.

With plans in place to program some autonomous flights to see how responsive it is, the drone will continually be used for cadet research to propel the Coast Guard into the future.

“We’d like to see how far this drone can see, can it detect a mooring field? Coast line mapping, tracking a red tide moving in the area, these are just some of the things we hope to discover with the drone,” said 1/c Carr. “It’s important for the Coast Guard to keep up with the technology, as a lifesaving service. With drones we can potentially prevent boating catastrophes, carry out search patterns that pilots can’t complete, drug interdiction and so much more,” said 1/c Carr.