Above: The Sunglider HALE-UAS developed by AeroVironment for HAPSMobile can provide on-the-ground broadband internet access. Credit: HAPSMobile.

PISCES is working to bring new aircraft technology to Hawaii that could provide a variety of important services while aiding the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Called High Altitude, Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems (HALE-UAS), the aircraft are being developed to support services like broadband internet access, remote sensing and natural disaster surveys.

HALE-UAS operate like geostationary satellites, hovering over a given region for weeks to months at a time at altitudes well above commercial jets. Hawaii is among only a few locations worldwide where these aircraft could launch and land. UAS could provide important services statewide including: broadband internet; storm and lava tracking; monitoring sea level rise, coastal erosion, coral reefs and invasive species; and recovery support after natural disasters.

Leading U.S. unmanned aircraft manufacturer AeroVironment is developing a UAS called the Sunglider that can serve as a communications platform for 4G LTE cellular signals over large areas of land. The technology could benefit rural areas lacking infrastructure for cellular and broadband internet.

Bringing HALE-UAS to Hawaii could also support economic recovery by creating new jobs in information technology, engineering and aviation, as well as vocational programs to train prospective workers. The aircraft can also provide remote sensing capabilities at a significantly lower cost with greater accessibility than geostationary satellites.

Together with the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory, PISCES in March 2021 hosted a webinar exploring the many applications for HALE-UAS in the State of Hawaii. Industry experts from the Alaska Center for UAS Integration, USGS, NASA Ames, AeroVironment and the University of Hawaii at Hilo paneled the event which drew an audience of more than two-dozen lawmakers and state and county officials.

Moving forward, PISCES has plans to meet with these parties to discuss the next steps to establish a UAS flight and operations center in Hawaii.