Today, Kansas did something nobody else in the country could do, take a drone beyond the line of sight.

“Currently, we’re restricted to a visual line of sight of operations,” said Kansas-State Polytech Flight Operation Manager Travis Balthazor. “So, anytime you fly a main aircraft, you have to keep it in the visual line of sight, and we’re trying to advance those regulation to allow more Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology for the general public.”

To do that, Kansas Department of Transportation and 30 other Kansas groups kicked off a federal program called UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP).

The event took place in Gypsum where almost 50 people watched officials test ways to fly commercial drones much farther than before.

“The federal aviation administration has given us authority and a partnership to be able to do brand new things with drones that people aren’t allowed to do anywhere else in the country,” Director of Kansas Aviation Bob Brock said. “We can fly drones out of our sight, which gives us the ability to do a search and rescue in county or state parks. These drones are an actual life saving tool and can positively impact the state’s economy.”

They do so by pre-programming a drone’s flight path.

Flight operations manager Travis Balthazor said a pilot can control it remotely and track its progress on a monitor.

“It has way points on a map,” he said. “So, we’ve pre-programmed those waypoints to have a specific location, a specific altitude and the aircraft is supposed to have a specific speed. So, when it’s progressing to each one of those it has a specific flight profile.”

Balthazor said during the flight, people can change the flight’s profile to tell the drone to go in different directions or end the flight earlier.

The goal of this program is to improve drone technology, so drones can be used in many industries, including infrastructure and agriculture in Kansas.

“You know flying down power lines, inspecting them,” he said. “Looking for any breaks or anything that may be out of place in roads or pipe lines.”

“As you can see in the fields behind me,” UAS IPP Program Manager Dennis King said. “With drones and sensors, you can tell whether the field is getting enough hydration or if there is a sick animal out there. If I got 30,000 acres of crops, and I need to inspect it, I can do it with a drone.”

Over 2,800 applicants applied for this opportunity, and Federal Aviation Administration gave Kansas and four other states the opportunity to fly beyond the line of sight.

“Our intent is to create an opportunity, to save money and to make more money for our private industry and our state.”