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Safford Field Office
Release Date: 10/04/12
Contacts: Diane Drobka, 928-348-4403    

BLM to Utilize Unmanned Aircraft in Safford

New Technology Will Assist San Simon Watershed Management

Safford, Ariz.  Thanks to a new program at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Operations Center in Denver, the Safford Field Office will have an opportunity to utilize a small unmanned aircraft to photograph public lands in the San Simon Valley.  Those who are traveling on Haekel or Tanque roads may see these small, low-flying planes in operation in early October.

The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is an exciting new technology that will transform earth observation methods and techniques that support scientific research investigations, monitoring environmental conditions, analysis of climate change impacts, and related land management decisions. Use of the UAS will enable land management specialists to access more remote areas and provide a safe and cost-effective way to obtain field data.

The Raven RQ-11a to be used above the San Simon Valley is 36 inches long and has a 4.5-foot wingspan.  The aircraft weighs only four pounds, with the camera attached. It is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery that allows flights of 60-90 minutes travelling about seven miles at a speed of 30 mph.

The Raven is hand-launched, making it easily transportable and deployable, enabling its use in areas that have been difficult or impossible to obtain information before.  This will allow scientists and land managers access to an increased level of monitoring of earth surface conditions and processes such as vegetation health, invasive species, erosion, and wildfires.

The Safford Field Office hopes the aerial images will assist in future land management.  The UAS transmits near real-time airborne video images, compass headings, and GPS locations to a ground-control unit and remote video terminal. The optics package includes an electro-optical color camera (side- and forward-looking) and two infrared thermal nose payloads.

The Raven and its pilot/navigator Lance Brady, formerly of Safford, will be in the San Simon Valley during the first week in October. The aircraft will capture aerial images of the BLM’s HX Dam, Timber Draw site, Goat Well Detention Structure, Haekel Road, and zeolite mines.  This will mark the first use of the UAS by the BLM in Arizona. 

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to manage and conserve the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations under our mandate of multiple-use and sustained yield. In Fiscal Year 2014, the BLM generated $5.2 billion in receipts from public lands.

Last updated: 04-06-2015