Courtesy photo - An unmanned drone conducted several cloud seeding tests above the Hawthorne Industrial Airport on June 7.

Courtesy photo –
An unmanned drone conducted several cloud seeding tests above the Hawthorne Industrial Airport on June 7.

Unmanned aerial cloud-seeding reached a new milestone through the successful integration and deployment of 14 ejectable cloud-seeding flares at low altitude.

In several test passes, Drone America’s Savant™ sUAS aircraft deployed its silver-iodide cloud-seeding payload 75-feet above the Hawthorne Industrial Airport’s runway with direct supervision from local fire crews and airport authorities, while being monitored by Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS). The test was performed under the state’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site designation on Tuesday, June 7.

“The Nevada cloud-seeding team once again demonstrated their ability to complete a new research milestone and become the thought leader in this critical UAS area. From mission planning, risk mitigation, innovative design through execution, the Nevada Team is on the fringe of developing an amazing capability that will benefit many industries,” said Chris Walach, Ph.D., director of operations for the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and the FAA-designated Nevada UAS Test Site. “I very much look forward to their fully operational cloud-seeding UAS capability.”

The Savant™ sUAS, also named the “Sandoval Silver State Seeder” in honor of Governor Brian Sandoval’s support for the state’s UAS industry, deployed a total of 17 silver-iodide flares which further demonstrates the ability to perform unmanned aerial cloud-seeding operations in the near future.

“We are very proud to work with project members DRI, AviSight, NIAS, the town of Hawthorne and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development in continuing to successfully test unmanned aerial cloud-seeding,” said Mike Richards, president and CEO of Drone America. “These tests are critical to the success of this ground breaking program, which will prove our ability to perform safe, reliable and cost effective Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) commercial cloud-seeding operations.”

Supported by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) through the Knowledge Fund, this unique project is being led by the Desert Research Institute (DRI) to help address Nevada’s ongoing battle with drought and to explore creative solutions for natural-resource challenges, such as supplementing water supplies. The research team at DRI has more than 30 years of weather modification research and expertise.

Drone America performed the test flight under Nevada UAS Test Sites Certificate of Authorization (COA) and led by the DRI flight operations node which allows the Savant™ sUAS to fly up to 1,200 feet.

“This first flight conducted by our team under the direction of DRI as a Nevada UAS Test Site flight operations node is an exciting milestone, because it illustrates the record of safe and professional operations our team has built and provides for increased flexibility in our future flight testing and operations,” said Adam Watts, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project and an assistant research professor at DRI.

Aerial support for the test operations was conducted by AviSight, who used their manned aircraft to record the flight using visual and infrared cameras. The data collected is being used to further refine systems, which will help move the project beyond line of sight.

“This is a great opportunity for Hawthorne, NIAS and this team to be a part of this exciting new industry,” said Lt. Colonel (Ret.) James Fleitz, co-founder of AviSight. “Proving that both ejectable as well as standard burn cloud-seeding flares work from the Savant™ sUAS aircraft are huge accomplishments and further proves our groups capabilities.”

Lastly, while every person and group on this project pour their time and hearts into this cloud-seeding project, the entire Nevada cloud-seeding team would like to take a moment to specially thank Betty Easley, Hawthorne Industrial Airport Manager. Ms. Easley has gone above and beyond her duties to help our team feel welcomed to Hawthorne and to help us succeed in the one-of-a-kind project. The entire project team is deeply grateful to be continuing to work with her in all future tests at the Hawthorne Industrial Airport.