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This summer, a ship on a mission in the Arctic Circle was aided by long-range imaging reconnaissance provided by an unmanned aircraft. The drone launched by the ship crew provided a bird’s eye view of the situation and demonstrated another use of drone technology.

A workboat fleet was sent out this summer north of Alaska to retrieve massive anchors from mooring sites. On board the lead ship was a Flexrotor, a small craft that would serve as a guide for the joint mission by Aerovel (developer of the Flexrotor drone), Precision Integrated and Fairweather Science.

This was the first time Fairweather used a drone to aid an Arctic ship, and the company’s senior scientist Justin Blank said the tactic hadn’t been tried by others. His company plans to use drones in the future, according to

In a little over two weeks, the Flexrotor flew five flights totaling 19 hours, and guided the fleet through otherwise slow seas choked with ice. Each morning the ship would contact other companies and individuals that might be flying in the Arctic Circle, so that everyone was aware of the drone and danger was prevented. The seafloor gear was retrieved without incident and the ships headed for home weeks ahead of schedule.

Precision Integrated was contracted by Alaska’s Fairweather Science to execute the mission. Matt Parker, vice president of Precision, said in a news release reported by  “Flexrotor’s small footprint makes onboard setup quick and easy; launch and retrieval are done with no disruption to the ship’s activity; and its long range and endurance are immensely powerful. This was the first genuinely sustained and economically successful mission for unmanned aircraft aboard ship in the Arctic. We’ll soon be doing many more.”

Video from the drone, which was streamed to viewers in real-time through the boat’s satellite link, offered an impressive view of the environment in which the fleet set out to work. The yellow aircraft is shown executing a vertical takeoff from the helipad of a ship that served as its base. Airborne footage shows the ship below, surrounded by ice.

“We are always careful to tread lightly in the Arctic and wanted to avoid breaking sea ice on this mission to minimize our environmental presence,” said Blank. “Flexrotor’s imaging was vital, but its small size and low noise were big advantages as well.”