Using drones on Corps of Engineer projects

Posted in: Energy, Infrastructure, Water


UAV UAS droneUsing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems continues to be a hot topic for engineers and designers. However, it’s important to understand that while the use of UAV/UAS offers advantages, there are strict rules and protocols when working on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects.

Recently, I attended a Tulsa Post of the Society of American Military Engineers luncheon dedicated to the topic of unmanned aerial and terrestrial systems associated technologies, methodologies for data collection, and use of aerial systems on Corps projects. David Flood, from the USACE Tulsa District, discussed the “do’s and don’ts” of using drones for USACE projects.

The reasons for using UAVs include the ability to access areas too dangerous for humans and to acquire imagery and data from numerous angles. Possible uses of drones on USACE projects include:

  • Bridge inspections
  • Levee breach investigations
  • Gate inspections
  • Surveying and mapping of dams and levees

The USACE process for selecting and approving the UAVs for projects may be long, and if you aren’t prepared properly onerous. The selection requirements include:

  • Airspace determination (is it restricted?)
  • Risk assessment
  • Confirmation of ability to meet System Safety Management Plan (SSMP), System Safety Working Group (SSWG), and USACE District standard operating procedure (SOP) requirements

It’s not just getting the use of the drone approved for the Corps project, you must also have qualified operators. To gain approval UAV/UAS operators must have training in FAA Class II Medical (Flight Physical), General UAV/UAS Operations, and Platform Specific. To keep their qualifications operators must have a minimum number of flight hours and launches and recoveries.

Additionally, specific sensors and communications systems must meet USACE cyber security requirements. All flight operations must be within the line-of-site of the UAV pilot.

Needless to say, securing permission to use a UAV/UAS on a USACE project is neither quick nor simple. However, a UAV/UAS may still be the best means of gathering required data, and close coordination with the local USACE District will ensure your “drone” plan meets requirements.

The Circuit Chargers
The Circuit Chargers

Before closing, I want to give a shout-out to the award-winning Tulsa Memorial High School student robotics team, the Circuit Chargers. During the SAME luncheon the STEM youth group demonstrated their robot’s capabilities and talked about the competition. Congratulations Circuit Chargers on winning the FIRST world championships!


Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

About the Author

Miro Kurka, P.E., PMP, knows water is an incredible resource. “I like leading teams and managing water infrastructure projects that make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired U.S. Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years. He enjoys traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

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