Fort Worth, Texas-based Elbit Systems of America, along with its local partners, hosted an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) field day in August at the Hillsboro Regional Airport to highlight its recent Hermes 450 unmanned aerial system (UAS) flights over North Dakota.

“North Dakota has been called the Silicon Valley of drones,” says Elbit Systems of America President and CEO Raanan Horowitz. “Leveraging the experience of our parent company with the commercial insights of our partners, we bring advanced technology to the farmland, demonstrating effective approaches for data collection.”

Equipped with advanced sensors and high-resolution cameras such as the Vision Map A3 Edge and the Elbit Systems Compass EO/IR real time sensor, the Hermes 450 is capable of covering 40,000 acres in one hour and can remain in flight for 17 hours.

Elbit Systems of America has been operating from the Hillsboro Regional Airport for the last four months where it has flown multiple precision agriculture flights. In collaboration with North Dakota State University and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Elbit Systems of America has worked with select local farmers to gather and analyze data to improve crop management for increased efficiency and greater yield.

Elbit Systems of America also is partnering with Xcel Energy, the University North Dakota, and others to use the large-scale UAS in assessing damage to utility infrastructure following severe storms, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. The Xcel Energy project began in July 2016 and will continue for one year with the goal of reducing utility down time while increasing safety and efficiency.

“In a natural disaster, drone technology will provide valuable damage assessment data to help Xcel Energy mobilize crews, materials, and equipment to speed recovery efforts,” says Michael Lamb, vice president, Xcel Energy operating services and enterprise transformation office.

USAF seeks open architecture, modular UAS solutions

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is keen to upgrade its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) programs by deploying an open architecture – ensuring standards-based modularity for plug-and-play sensors and quick hardware and software upgrades – according to analysts at Frost & Sullivan.

The USAF has made a case for a new MQ-X to replace the MQ-1/MQ-9 fleet, but the budget will not allow for a new medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS program. Instead, it is focusing on less expensive sensors and platforms such as those in the MQ-9 extended range (ER) UAS aircraft.

Frost & Sullivan’s US Military Unmanned Aircraft Market analysis notes UAS market revenues stood at $4.18 billion in 2015 and are expected to grow to $6.25 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.9%.

The USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawk program will increase its upgrade spending from $32.0 million in 2017 to $155.7 million in 2021, notes Frost & Sullivan Aerospace & Defense Senior Industry Analyst Michael Blades. The spending will be aimed at integrating and testing the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS-2), which is the payload flown on U-2 reconnaissance planes.