Mike Leasure, associate professor of aviation technology, has been appointed coordinator of unmanned aerial systems for Purdue University’s new FAA certificate of authorization (COA) for agriculture. A COA approved the use of airspace for the flight of registered unmanned aircraft.
In this role, Leasure will supervise, train, and recruit qualified unmanned operators; maintain and revise the approved airspace certificate of authorization; and be a point of expertise for researchers interested in deploying unmanned aircraft for agricultural research.
During the summer, Leasure supervised and worked alongside two unmanned operators from the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology on a research project focused on precision agricultural imaging. Students Evan Flatt and Corben Meyer, who are both experienced in unmanned systems, programmed, built, repaired and flew several aircraft, including rotorcraft and fixed-wing designs, for the project.
The flights helped collect data in several formats to help scientists understand the productivity and health of specific fields. The data included multispectral and hyperspectral images, normalized difference vegetation index (NDV) information, and georeferenced color photos.
The agricultural research will include an expansion of data-gathering capabilities in Summer 2016, Leasure said. Student researchers are being recruited and trained through the unmanned aerial systems major and minor offered by the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology.
Funding for Leasure’s coordinator position comes, in part, from a Department of Energy Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture grant for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.