UVU’s UAV testing takes flight

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Photo courtesy of UVU Marketing.

Photo courtesy of UVU Marketing.

Christine Behle | Staff Writer


UVU’s top aviation program has recently been licensed to fly unmanned aerial vehicles by the Federal Aviation Administration. The approval was negotiated by Russell Hopkinson, the director of safety for aviation sciences at UVU.

The Utah State Legislature, in 2014, passed a resolution in support of UVU applying to be one of the FAA-approved UAV-testing sites. Val Peterson, the vice president of Finance and Administration and also the House Representative for Orem, was the main sponsor of the bill.

The FAA chose six other sites, but in the past year and a half since the decision, Hopkinson has been discussing with the FAA to ensure the legality of the flight of the UAV, since restrictions on who can commercially fly are strict.

It took UVU roughly a year to go through the process of getting paperwork done and officially obtaining the Certificate of Authorization.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has partnered with UVU, BYU, Utah State University, Weber State University and the University of Utah to create the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance, which tries to establish Utah as a viable location for the UAV industry to take off.

While the curriculum does not currently include courses on UAVs, the aviation faculty is developing coursework so that UVU students can be involved with the new cutting edge science along with the faculty.

“The Federal Aviation Administration is very particular about who they allow to be licensed since there have been some challenges with putting unmanned vehicles in the air with manned vehicles,” said Hopkinson.

The situation could be disastrous if there’s a commercial airplane in the air with an unrecognized, unmanned vehicle. The manned vehicle will always have right of way over the unmanned vehicle.

There are still unanswered questions about how to regulate them.  The purpose of the FAA test sites is to work out the logistics of regulations before they are presented. For now, UVU will give 72 hour notice before they start flying an unmanned vehicle so airplanes can avoid it.

UVU is the leading school in this alliance, due to their unique resources. One of the advantages that UVU had in obtaining the permission is Utah’s unique terrain, with both the mountainous areas and Bonneville Salt Flats that are so close to each other. The land makes for an ideal location for testing UAVs.