Drones

Seeing Through the Hull: Drones are Turbocharging Search and Rescue – The Maritime Executive

Summary

An infrared image of a fire-damaged oil storage tank at a refinery in Pasadena, 2018. Drone surveillance helped assess residual heat and reflash potential (USCG)

Published
Nov 17, 2021 2:03 PM by

U.S. Coast Guard News

[By Kathy Murray]

Shortly aft…….

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An infrared image of a fire-damaged oil storage tank at a refinery in Pasadena, 2018. Drone surveillance helped assess residual heat and reflash potential (USCG)

Published
Nov 17, 2021 2:03 PM by

U.S. Coast Guard News

[By Kathy Murray]

Shortly after Hurricane Ida tore through Louisiana at the end of August, the Coast Guard’s Gulf Strike Team in Mobile, Ala., got a call. Trouble spots had been identified, including sunken vessels, potential pollution, and other waterway hazards. Could the team deploy a pilot to assess the damage?

Petty Officer 2nd Class Dylan Zechman responded, bringing along one of the Coast Guard’s short-range unmanned aircraft systems (SR-UAS) – essentially a handheld drone. Using satellite imagery gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he launched the small portable aircraft over target areas deemed potentially hazardous, capturing photos and data that would be sent back to incident command to help prioritize recovery efforts. 

“It’s a great tool,” said Zechman, who estimates that he and a pilot from the Atlantic Strike Team each averaged three or four flights a day during the three-week mission. “We were even able to spot a broken off boom from a crane barge underwater. There was hull damage to the barge and the diesel tanks on board were leaking into the water.”  

Zechman’s deployment is just one way the Coast Guard is increasing its use of drones after hurricanes and severe weather events. In addition to using UAS for routine inspections, the service’s civil engineering units have also brought in drones to identify storm damage in and around Coast Guard and strategic coastal facilities.  

While airplane surveillance and helicopter rescues may be more visible, a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft is frequently taking the lead in post-storm damage assessment and cleanup. And they’re not only doing it more safely, but usually at a fraction of the cost. The battery-powered drone Zechman pilots, for example, costs about $1,800 to buy compared to the $7,000 or more per hour it takes to operate a helicopter, says Chief Petty Officer Toni Warnock, the Coast Guard’s Short Range UAS subject matter expert and fleet training manager. “We’ve utilized SR-UAS following every major tropical event since 2018,” he added. “The return on investment has been phenomenal.”   

The Coast Guard has a variety of drones at its disposal, both cutter-based and on land. At the top end, the Coast Guard uses the General Atomics MQ-9 Predator in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to conduct surveillance for drug interdiction, migrant traffic, and other nefarious activities along the southern borders. These long- range drones, which are land-based, weigh in at 10,500 pounds and can travel at speeds of up to 276 mph.  

In addition, National Security Cutters have medium range UAS capability with the Insitu Scan Eagle and their launching systems on board. These fuel-powered drones have a wingspan of more …….

Source: https://www.maritime-executive.com/editorials/seeing-through-the-hull-drones-are-turbocharging-search-and-rescue