Researchers from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have sent a drone more than a half mile into the air as part of test flights for the federal government.
An unmanned aerial vehicle known as an RS-16 took off Wednesday from a gas-propelled catapult at the Kenedy Foundation Ranch in South Texas. The drone headed up to nearly 3,000 feet over the Gulf Coast.
About 90 minutes later the drone safely returned, skidding to a stop on its belly on a sandy dry lake bed about 8 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and some 60 miles south of Corpus Christi.
Texas is among six states designated by the Federal Aviation Administration to develop test sites for drones.
University official David Bridges says the aircraft and its technology cost about $200,000.
Here's how the university describes the testing process:
During these missions, the drone will launch from a mobile operations center, fly east out of sight of ground observers, and will be monitored by a manned aircraft as it flies over Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Regulations require the drone remain under visual contact at all times.
Researchers will also continue training with the onboard multi-spectral camera that acquires video, ultraviolet and thermal images that can be used for mapping sea grass, monitoring pipeline routes, detecting wildfires hotspots or oil spills in the ocean, and counting livestock.
During the missions, the Command and Control Center back in Corpus Christi will continue development of the technology to track, monitor, and receive streaming video from the UAV and the mobile operations center at the launch site.
This video from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi offers more details on its drone: