How Drones are Opening the Skies for Scientists by Kyle Snyder


From search-and-recovery efforts to dinosaur fossil expeditions, drones are revolutionizing the way we do business.

Catawba College graduate Kyle Snyder, director of the NextGen Air Transportation (NGAT) Consortium at N.C. State University, will talk February 15 about his work supporting the integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems – drones – into the national airspace for routine, commercial applications. His speech, “How Drones are Opening the Skies for Scientists,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Room 300 of the Center for the Environment building on the Catawba College campus.

Snyder watched the first space shuttles launch from this backyard when he was a child. He got married in Kitty Hawk. That fascination with flight, multiple degrees in math, computer science and aerospace, and positions at places like NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center and Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems propelled him into the field of aviation technology. 

His growing reputation for research leadership and comprehensive knowledge of the impacts of modern technology on aviation caused the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to contact him nearly six years ago when he was directing the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program in the Aerospace Department at Middle Tennessee State University. “We’ve got to start embracing this future of aviation,” NCDOT officials said. Then they invited him back to his home state to lead the NGAT Consortium at N.C. State.

Snyder rattles off just a few of the applications spawned by this new technology: package delivery, real estate sales, accident investigations, public safety operations. “It all comes together under the NGAT umbrella of modernizing aviation in North Carolina so that we’re not just `First in Flight’; we’re also ‘Next in Flight.’”

Snyder works with research faculty and students at N.C. State as well as with industry and government agencies that are deploying the technology today. “I’m not sure you could have watched a news report last year on Hurricane Irma or Harvey and not seen drone footage,” he says. Drones helped emergency responders with faster responses and helped them get “better situational awareness of the state of the flood behind the dam and where people were.”

Drone technology is “personalizing aviation and democratizing aviation at the same time,” Snyder says, “opening up this air space to people who never thought they could use that third dimension.”


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