One million flight hours milestone reached by Insitu UAS

By Patrick C. Miller | August 02, 2017

Insitu Inc. last week reached a milestone in the company’s 23-year history of a combined one million flight hours on its ScanEagle, Integrator and Blackjack unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)

Insitu—a wholly owned subsidiary of the Boeing Co. headquartered in Bingen, Washington—designs, develops, produces and operates unmanned aircraft systems for military, government and commercial applications.

Ryan Hartman, Insitu president and CEO, said, “Insitu’s path to one million operational flight hours has been navigated by our ‘why’ statement, which is to pioneer and innovate in all that we do so we positively impact peoples’ lives and change the course of history.”

Hartman said he’s encouraged by progress being made in the U.S. by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other groups to enable the commercial operation of UAS in the national airspace.

“It started with Part 107 that was released last year that enabled limited access to the national airspace—aircraft below 55 pounds operating below 400 feet,” he noted. “That was a good start, but certainly that is a limited start.”

According to Hartman, the Drone Advisory Committee and the NextGen Advisory Committee are working on the more complex UAS challenges associated with beyond-visual-line-of-sight flying and operating in Class G airspace with non-cooperative aircraft.

“All of that work is ongoing and I expect over the coming years we’ll see iterative legislation that enables the companies like Insitu to fly ScanEagle and other systems we’re currently developing to operate in a complex environment within the national airspace,” he said.

Some of the prerequisites Hartman believes are necessary before commercial UAS operations can occur are the detect-and-avoid standards being developed by RTCA Subcommittee 228 and the certification standards being developed by the Drone Advisory Committee.

“In addition to that, there was a new aviation rulemaking committee that was just formed for the detection and identification of unmanned aircraft,” he said. “All of those things are what will formulate this iterative approach to enabling unmanned aircraft to operate in the national airspace.”

Founded in 1994 to develop the concept of robotic miniature aircraft, Insitu has had several key milestones throughout its history. For example, in 1998, the company’s Aerosonde became the first-ever unmanned aircraft to perform a successful transatlantic flight. The ScanEagle was deployed in 2004 to support U.S. Marine Corps operations overseas. In 2013, the ScanEagle became the first UAS to conduct an FAA-approved commercial beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight in the national airspace system.

“Providing our customers with new tools to creatively solve old problems has inspired our culture since the beginning, and it continues to motivate the work we do every day,” Hartman said. “We’re proud to say that we are just as rewarded by our new successes and opportunities as we are inspired by the events that got us to this point—and I believe we are just getting started.”

Insitu’s RQ-21A Blackjack in 2016 achieved full-rate production and was deployed in support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. This year, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton became the first cutter equipped with the ScanEagle to deploy with a small UAS for an entire patrol.

“ScanEagle and RQ-21A Blackjack systems have helped our warfighters save lives and successfully execute missions since 2004,” said Col. John Neville, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps small tactical UAS. “We congratulate Insitu on this incredible milestone.”.