An oil company, ConocoPhillips Alaska, says it has made aviation history over the Chukchi Sea, conducting “the first approved commercial use” of an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, in the United States.
The flight took place in remote airspace about 120 miles offshore the village of Wainwright, the company said in a Sept. 24 news release.
The drone is known as the ScanEagle, from Insitu Inc., a Bingen, Wash., subsidiary of The Boeing Co. The Federal Aviation Administration in July certificated the ScanEagle.
The aircraft is quite small, weighing about 40 pounds, ConocoPhillips said.
It was flown earlier this month over the Chukchi Sea, the company said. The ScanEagle can fly up to 18 hours on a gallon and a half of fuel.
The aircraft was launched from the research vessel Westward Wind, managed and operated by Olgoonik Fairweather LLC.
“Controlled by a UAS pilot on the Westward Wind, the ScanEagle sent real-time video and telemetry to the ground control system on the vessel,” ConocoPhillips said.
The flight successfully tested the ScanEagle’s sensor payload and navigation system, said the company, which plans to share flight data with the FAA, academia and the energy industry.
ConocoPhillips has offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, and plans to conduct exploratory drilling sometime after 2014.
Unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, have potential for helping the oil industry on jobs such as monitoring marine mammals and ice floes.
“Airborne surveillance is often a component of offshore projects,” said Trond-Erik Johansen, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska. “The UAS could be useful in our monitoring and data collection efforts, with the benefit of improved safety and lower noise levels as compared to using manned aircraft.”
See story in Sept. 29 issue, available online at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at www.PetroleumNews.com