Several people may have been swept away by raging floodwaters in Johnson County, Texas last week, were it not for drone operator Garrett Bryl and his quadcopter. Bryl and his drone, which he dubbed “Valkyrie,” is modified to carry a camera and searchlight for rescue operations.
Bryl spotted a pickup truck swept off the road by the reflection of the searchlight off the truck’s taillight. Once located, the fire department then sent over a rescue hovercraft to save the people inside the truck.
In a second drone-assisted rescue a few hours later, Valkyrie transported a “leader line” rope to a family trapped in their mobile home, which was surrounded by fast-flowing water. The house was inaccessible by boat or hovercraft. With the rope attached to the house, rescue workers sent the family life preservers and a rescue line. A helicopter was then able to lift them out of danger.
Bryl has been flying in cooperation with the Joshua Fire Department for about six months. This department does not have an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) although it has applied for one, so in the meantime Bryl flies as an enthusiast with an emergency scanner, showing up for emergencies to see if help is needed.
Stories such as this are great examples of why the FAA needs to make it easier for people like Bryl to fly. We need to develop a lightly regulated framework for smaller drones that are less than 4.4 pounds, with regulations separate from those for larger systems.Valmie is currently exploring how it can play a role in these public-spirited efforts and last month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a prominent search and rescue organization for the purpose of working with that group to develop and deploy Valmie’s UAV technology for humanitarian applications.