A beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flight of a drone traveled along the Trans-Alaska pipeline system (TAPS) this month, led by a team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. Operators flew the drone along 3.87 miles of TAPS, using onboard and ground-based detection systems (instead of human observers) to detect and avoid other aircraft. The drone also had onboard collision avoidance technology and a five-nautical mile system consisting of eight ground-based radars, which provided the aviation radar coverage during the flight.

Tom Barrett, President of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates TAPS, said, “The ability to use [drones] for surveillance in remote areas of the pipeline increases the tools at our disposal to operate TAPS more reliability and safely and better protect Alaska’s environment. This innovative step forward will advance safe performance not just in our industry, but in multiple disciplines and workspaces across the country.”

This flight was conducted as part of the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The goal of the flight, and others in this pilot program, is to help further integrate drones in the national airspace and find ways to safely fly BVLOS and carry out night operations and flights over people.