NASA’s MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, named “Ikhana,” recently completed a deployment to Hawaii in support of two diverse flight opportunities.
The Ikhana project completed its first deployment in early August when new aircraft systems were tested that may allow the plane to fly future missions into the Arctic Circle region and collect information on ice sheets and caps as part of NASA’s commitment to better understand our Earth.
The aircraft carried an optical imaging sensor and a maritime radar for the Hawaiian flights. Remote operation from a command and control center was verified to enable future support of scientific missions in isolated geographical locations.
Ikhana collected scientific and environmental data in Hawaii on two flights totaling more than 19 hours over northwest areas of the island state. NASA worked with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to perform surveys of monk seals, sea turtles, sea birds and vegetation. Sensors on the aircraft searched for marine debris in Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument.
NASA’s MQ-9 also flew four missions for the U.S. Navy to provide visual and radar imagery for an effective and safe Rim of the Pacific military maritime training exercise. Ikhana’s imaging sensor and the radar provided ocean range clearance, situational awareness of ship movement, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training aid during more than 32 hours of flight time.
Ikhana conducted flight operations from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua’i. The pilots operated the aircraft from a specially equipped NASA ground control station, also located at PMRF.
While the aircraft was in Hawaii, education specialists from Armstrongís Office of Education engaged educators, students and parents in Ikhana-related activities on Kaua’i. These activities included PMRF’s Stars and Stripes Freedom Celebration on July 3. In cooperation with Kaua’i Community College, the education team, with support from Ikhana pilots, engineers and a NOAA scientist, conducted a hands-on science, technology, engineering and math workshop for elementary and secondary students.
The name “Ikhana” is a Native American Choctaw word meaning intelligent, conscious or aware. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.