NOAA Wants Hybrid Drones to Patrol the Coast

A FireFly6 Pro

A FireFly6 Pro U.S. Geological Survey

The agency wants an unmanned system that can fly like a plane but take off and land like a helicopter.

The federal agency in charge of monitoring the environment wants a new drone that can take off and land on a single spot while still achieving high speeds in flight.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a solicitation Wednesday looking for a small business that can provide a hybrid unmanned aerial system—or drone—with a fixed-wing setup that is still capable of vertical take-offs and landings.

“For this mission we are interested the greater horizontal speed—about 15 m/s—and endurance—50-plus minutes—offered by a fixed-wing UAS relative to rotary-wing UAS, while also maintaining the capacity for” vertical take-offs and landings, the solicitation states. “VTOL is vital to protect the aircraft and the high-resolution sensor payload during landings in the challenging field environments where we will be operating.”

The drone will be outfitted with an array of sensitive cameras to help it capture aerial imagery along the California coast.

Specifically, NOAA is looking for two FireFLY6 Pro drones with Sony A7R cameras “installed in custom vibration isolating mounts” with quick-release connectors, according to the statement of need. The total package should include everything else needed to operate the drones, including a ground control computer and software, a long-range video link antenna and a training class for pilots to be held in San Diego.

Once the contract is awarded, the agency expects to receive the first drone and set of equipment by Aug. 31. The contract also includes two option periods—beginning March 2, 2020, and March 2, 2021—during which NOAA officials can opt to purchase additional setups, for a total of three packages over three years.

NEXT STORY: A Startling Spike on Mars