The Waterloo-built Aeryon Scout surveillance drone is playing a critical role in making sure the Alaskan town of Nome receives a badly needed shipment of fuel from a Russian tanker battling ice in the Bering Sea.

Nome, a community of 3,500, missed out on a scheduled fuel delivery last fall when a fierce storm prevented it.

This week, officials secured a rare emergency certificate of authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to send two of Aeryon’s compact, all-weather drones into the sky to get an otherwise-unobtainable view of the sea ice. The images are being used to help the Healy, a U.S. Coast Guard’s sole working icebreaker, to guide the Renda and its 1.3-million-gallon cargo safely into Nome’s harbour.

“It’s definitely been an asset to have this piece of technology,” Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow of the Coast Guard told Communitech today, by phone from Alaska.

The compact, lightweight Scout, which the Washington Post compared visually to “a smoke detector with wings and legs,” is easily controlled using a tablet computer. It has been feeding crisp, instantaneous still and video images to researchers tracking changing ice conditions in the ships’ path.

The footage is especially crucial because Nome’s harbour is too shallow for the Healy, which means the tanker will have to dock on its own.

Aeryon president Dave Kroetsch said the Scout “is designed for exactly this type of role and environment – deploying quickly to provide an aerial perspective in any location and in any weather.”

“The fact is, the Scout operates reliably in wind and weather conditions when many other small UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) simply cannot fly,” Kroetsch said.

The mission-critical role the Scout is playing in Alaska is the latest in a steady stream of news-making incidents involving the hardy micro-drone. Last summer, Aeryon supplied the Scout to Libyan rebels as they battled to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi. A year earlier, it was sent skyward during BP’s battle to contain the massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

Read Aeryon’s press release.



About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.