Practical use of mini- and micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for the Environmental Sciences

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This course will run from 18th-22nd August 2014


This comprehensive five-day course will provide you with the knowledge and hands-on, practical skills required to undertake an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) campaign safely, legally and successfully for NERC oriented science.


Unmanned aerial vehiclePractical sessions will take the form of simulated mission scenarios, where you will have the chance to take an off-the shelf instrument, integrate it into a mini/micro UAV airframe (<20kg in weight) and plan and perform scientific flights. You will then analyse collected data and evaluate your missions. 

Alongside the hands-on sessions, lectures will be presented on topics including regulatory and air traffic legislation, flight planning and checks, and the miniaturisation and integration of instruments into UAV designs.  

Your lecturers each have many years’ experience using UAVs for research. As such, we anticipate high demand for this course and recommend early registration.

Topics covered:

unmanned aerial vehicle
  • Using UAVs for NERC Science
  • Aircraft control theory and autopilots
  • Miniaturisation / integration of instruments
  • UAV regulations
  • Flight planning, operations and checklists
  • Integration of sensors onto mini/micro UAVs
  • Indoor mission flights
  • Outdoor flight missions
  • Mission debriefs and supervised data analysis
  • Group presentations and practical results

This course has been specifically designed for environmental scientists with an interest in the application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to their science.  The course will take place at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland, where you will have the chance to fly both indoor and outdoor missions (weather permitting).  


Professor Rob MacKenzie has 20 years of research experience, and over 70 peer-reviewed publications, an h-factor of 21, and has graduated 11 PhD students (with a further 2 currently studying and 3 due to start in October 2013). Rob’s expertise is in the design and delivery of atmospheric science field campaigns using specialist research aircraft. He and a small number of close European colleagues managed the research programme of the high altitude Geophysica aircraft for over ten years. Rob led a NERC technology Theme scoping study on the use of UASs for Earth and environmental science and is currently part of the team that will carry out the first combined campaign of the FAAM BAe146 and the remotely piloted NASA Global Hawk.

Dr Phil Anderson is Head of Marine Technology at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). Phil was the first person to operate UASs in the Antarctic and his team is now designing and operating marine-capable platforms for survey and sampling the Scottish coastal environment.

Dr Rick Thomas worked for several years at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, in Professor V. Ramanathan’s highly successful UAS program. Rick’s expertise lies in the development and integration of novel environmental sensing instrumentation and the safe scientific application of UAS up to 12,000ft altitude in non-segregated airspace. He is currently developing a whole-air sampler for a UAS helicopter platform at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Keri Nicoll is an Early Career Fellow of the Leverhulme Trust at the University of Reading. She has seven years of experience with development of small, lightweight science sensors, which have been flown on free balloon and UAS platforms. Dr Nicoll’s expertise is in the field of atmospheric electricity and cloud interactions, but she also has experience with Saharan dust and volcanic ash measurements, using a variety of sensors developed at the University of Reading including solar radiation, electrical charge and cloud droplet sensors.

Flt Lt Rob Leather has been a fighter-pilot with the RAF for 16 years and has flown the Hawk, Jaguar, F-18 Hornet (with the US Navy) and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Rob holds a civilian pilot's license and has completed the ground examinations for the airline transport licence. He now instructs Human Factors and Crew Resource Management and through private work for a light-aircraft development and sales company, frequently engages with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Rob has a degree in Physics from Oxford University.

Fees and funding

This course is free of charge for current PhD students and early career scientists with at least 50% NERC funding.  Accommodation, subsistence costs and reasonable travel within the UK will be funded by NERC for eligible students, but places are strictly limited and you must undertake an application process. If funds allow, additional support may be available for overseas students.

How to apply

You can apply via the SAMS website. The closing date for applications is the 1st August 2014. For further information email Rick Thomas