Drone World Expo Exclusive Interviews Mark Bathrick

2016-07-14

Drone World Expo  Exclusive Interviews  Mark Bathrick
We wanted to find out more about the team behind Drone World Expo – what makes them tick, what motivates them and what are the secrets behind the success of the event. We interviewed Advisory Board member Mark L. Bathrick who directs a nationwide aviation services business for the U.S Department of the Interior (DOI) overseeing the safe operation of over 1,200 contracted and government-owned manned and unmanned aircraft across a wide range of business applications.

Prior to his current position, Mark completed a career as a decorated Navy fighter pilot, experimental test pilot, multiple squadron commander, and installation commander.

1. At what point in your career did you first become involved with UAS in a professional capacity?

I first became involved with UAS while attending the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) as part of a U.S. Navy student exchange program. The curriculum there included a number of UAS related courses and visits to British and European companies where both manned and unmanned aircraft technologies were being developed. My involvement with UAS continued throughout my career as a Navy Test Pilot. In my second squadron command I had 19 of the largest UAS in the fleet at that time; optionally piloted QF-4 Phantoms that we employed in a variety of manned and unmanned flight test support missions. It was also there that I became involved in the development of Navy policy regarding the acquisition, testing and employment of UAS. Later, I commanded a large air engineering and test installation where we tested a wide range of interagency unmanned aircraft, including a lighter-than-air UAS.

When I came to the Department of the Interior (DOI), it was immediately clear that UAS were a perfect fit for many applications in our mission portfolio. DOI is responsible for the management of over 500 million acres of public land across the U.S. (~1 in every 5 acres). While traditional manned aviation has historically been an important tool in meeting these responsibilities, there have always been a number of missions for which manned aviation was too expensive or ill-suited for the requirements of these applications. Unmanned aircraft offer DOI Bureaus with opportunity to employ aviation in these roles. We believe UAS are an important new tool that will assist field managers in achieving better science, improved safety, increased savings, and more responsive service to many DOI mission applications.

2. What is the balance between manned and unmanned aircraft in your operations? How do you see it developing?

Today, the majority of our missions that employ aircraft are supported by manned aircraft. This is the result of several factors that will continue to change over time, resulting in the greater use of unmanned aircraft. First, it was important for us to develop the program structure necessary to safely and effectively integrate UAS into our aviation program. While UAS are aircraft and we have decades of experience and volumes of policy on managing aircraft, we needed to ensure we thoughtfully considered and addressed the unique attributes and challenges of unmanned aircraft (e.g. active command and payload links, data privacy and security, etc.). We also needed to perform operational test and evaluation flights to develop a set of technical mission requirements that we could use to procure future UAS. Having established a solid program foundation and the procurement of several commercially procured UAS for our government-owned fleet, we are moving toward the development of contracts for commercial UAS services in the future.

UAS will continue to find their way into DOI mission areas for which manned aircraft were either unsuitable or ill-suited for the requirements and constraints of these applications. I anticipate that it will result in our aviation usage growing by 50% over the next 5-7 years.

3. For what kind of operations would you rather (or can only) use unmanned aircraft and why?

The selection of manned, unmanned, or even optionally piloted aircraft is really dependent on the unique requirements of the specific mission. Both manned and unmanned aircraft possess attributes which make them ideally suited for some missions and less so for others. In making that selection, DOI Bureau managers work with experts in our office to understand and align their mission requirements with the best tool for the job. A partial list of factors considered include: required aircraft range, endurance, payload, sensors, cost, noise, mission hazards, required mission responsiveness, training requirements, accessibility to the technology, data privacy and security considerations, noise and visual signature and their potential impact on the public or wildlife, etc.

4. Can you tell us a bit about the DOI’s fleet of unmanned aircraft? Whats the ratio between fixed-wing and rotor? Do you have any personal favourite airframes?

DOIs fleet of unmanned aircraft continues to evolve as we gain mission experience and as drone, sensor, and related technologies rapidly change. When we initiated our UAS program in 2006, we focused on acquiring excess Department of Defense (DOD) small UAS assets (sUAS) as a way to inexpensively conduct operational test and evaluation flights that would inform the development of our future requirements for commercially acquired aircraft. Those aircraft included fixed wing RQ-11 Ravens and rotary wing RQ-16 T-Hawks. By leveraging excess DOD sUAS, we were able to acquire them at no cost. To eliminate maintenance costs, we accepted enough systems so that if they became damaged during testing, we had enough to continue testing without engaging in expensive repairs. These aircraft that had previously served our troops well also served us well in their “second” life; weve since transferred many of them to federal partner agencies that are following our similar UAS integration model. Using the data and experience gained from operational test and evaluation flights with these sUAS, we developed a set of requirements for three specific classes of rotary wing sUAS and two classes of fixed wing sUAS to meet identified mission needs. Using these requirements, we have since procured several commercially developed fixed wing and rotary wing sUAS.

The ratio of fixed-wing and rotary wing sUAS in our fleet is tied to mission suitability requirements and will continue to evolve as both mission requirements and technology continues to progress.

With respect to any personal favourite airframes, my favourite is whatever one best meets our requirements.

5. There are now a wide variety of exhibitions and conferences about UAS in the USA. Why did you choose to support Drone World Expo?

As an early adopter and leader in the domestic government application of UAS technology, we recognize the importance of building collaborative relationships with our industry, academia, and end-user partners. Participation in the wide variety of available exhibitions and conferences about UAS provides is one tool that supports building and nurturing these essential relationships and helps us keep abreast of the latest in UAS and related technology and thought. Drone World Expos focus on commercial applications and end-users and its location in Silicon Valley made this a natural choice for our participation.



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