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Uncrewed Aircraft Systems

Two NOAA Corps officers launch a hexacopter drone into the air

NOAA operates a wide variety of uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) to collect environmental data.

NOAA uses the term "uncrewed aircraft system" to describe flying drones, which are also often described as "autonomous," "unmanned," or "remotely piloted" vehicles.

The UAS Division of the NOAA Uncrewed Systems Operations Center provides policy input, oversight, and guidance for all of NOAA’s UAS operations.

Located at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center in Lakeland, Florida, the UAS Division is staffed by a team of aviation professionals who specialize in operational UAS implementation throughout the agency.

These operations provide a wide range of capabilities, including hurricane research, emergency response, marine mammal operations from the Aleutian Islands to Antarctica, and a multitude of other capabilities that provide scientists, other government agencies, and academic and industry partners with data in some of the world's most remote and harsh environments.

The UAS Division has two operational sections: the Standards, Training, and Safety (SST) section and the Programs section.

SST develops and provides the following training in support of NOAA operations:

  • Airspace Training
  • Remote Pilot in Command (numerous platforms)
  • Mission Commander
  • Fleet Management

SST also provides safety standards oversight for mishaps, risk management assessments, and platform airworthiness evaluations.

The Programs section consists of Program Management and Operations. The Program Manager and Operations Officer work together for standard and non-standard operations approvals. The approval process consists of ensuring policy compliance, correct crew qualifications, complete airspace vetting, and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition to operations approvals, the Programs section provides fleet management services to include tracking aircraft hours, types, pilot qualifications, and pilot training. The Programs section also coordinates broad airspace approvals through the Certificate of Authorization waiver process for expanded operations within the U.S. National Airspace System. This support is provided to NOAA line offices and partners to further develop and refine the use of small UAS (sUAS) for NOAA's research and data collection.

The NOAA UAS FY21 Use Report may be found here.

NOAA researchers or field offices wanting to utilize a sUAS should visit the UAS Division's intranet site.


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