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Open-File Report 2015–1032

U.S. Geological Survey Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Roadmap 2014

By Jill Cress, Michael Hutt, Jeff Sloan, Mark Bauer, Mark Feller and Susan Goplen

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (9.88 MB)Abstract

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is responsible for protecting the natural resources and heritage contained on almost 20 percent of the land in the United States. This responsibility requires acquisition of remotely sensed data throughout vast lands, including areas that are remote and potentially dangerous to access. One promising new technology for data collection is unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which may be better suited (achieving superior science, safety, and savings) than traditional methods. UAS, regardless of their size, have the same operational components: aircraft, payloads, communications unit, and operator control unit. The aircraft is the platform that flies and carries any required payloads. For Department of the Interior missions these payloads will be either a sensor or set of sensors that can acquire the specific type of remotely sensed data that is needed. The aircraft will also carry the payload that is responsible for transmitting live airborne video images, compass headings, and location information to the operator control unit. The communications unit, which transfers information between the aircraft and the operator control unit, consists of the hardware and software required to establish both uplink and downlink communications. Finally, the operator control unit both controls and monitors the aircraft and can be operated either by a pilot on the ground or autonomously.

This Roadmap provides operational procedures and lessons learned from completed proof-of-concept UAS missions in areas such as wildlife management, resource monitoring, and public land inspections. This information provides not only an implementation framework but can also help increase the awareness by resource managers, scientists, and others of the ability of UAS technology to advance data quality, improve personnel safety, and reduce data acquisition costs.

First posted March 31, 2015

For additional information, contact:
Director, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046, Mail Stop 980
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Cress, Jill, Hutt, Michael, Sloan, Jeff, Bauer, Mark, Feller, Mark, and Goplen, Susan, 2015, U.S. Geological Survey Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Roadmap 2014: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1032, 60 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




UAS Operational Environment—U.S. Department of the Interior

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations


Next Steps


Appendix 1. Additional Reading

Appendix 2. Abbreviations Used in This Report

Appendix 3. Costs of Using Aircraft

Appendix 4. United States Airspace

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