UAV use requires training and certification

Before using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help make farm or ranch decisions, an operator must undergo training and certification, says a Texas AgriLife engineer.

Users have to apply for permits from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), says Dale Cope, associate professor of practice in mechanical engineering, who operated a fixed-wing UAV over a cotton field during a featured stop at the recent Stiles Farm Foundation  field day in Thrall, Texas. 

The operator must be trained and have a permit to operate the vehicle. “Training includes an FAA knowledge test,” Cope says.

Operation limitations include flight restrictions. The unit must be flown line of sight, which is about a half-mile out, Cope says. Maximum altitude is 400 feet. Since UAVs are unmanned, they may encounter other aircraft and stationary objects, and visual line of sight is important to prevent collisions.

A certificate of authorization to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle could take up to six months to receive from the FAA, Cope says.

Currently, farmers may get recreational permits, he adds. Commercial permit regulations are being developed.

Cope says UAV operators must consider three factors before launching: airworthiness of the vehicle, qualifications of the operator, and operation limitations. The UAV must be capable of flying safely and under control.

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