Research using IRIS..not allowed!?

Hi there,

I have been doing some IRIS+ based measurements of atmospheric temperature profiles and

submitted a research proposal to the National Forest Service to fly above a site on NFS land.

Here is the response:


Unless you're able to point us toward FAA regs that indicate your proposed use would fall into the model aircraft (hobby/recreation) category, or produce a FAA certificate for Civil UAS use we won't be able to move forward with this aspect of your request.


I pointed out that this is not a commercial enterprise, we are not charging or making money, off of this and it is done during daylight,line of sight, and below 400" AGL

Anyone here that can help me ?

Thanks for reading this


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  • Hi Dan,

    I think I can help you with some info. I'm a researcher at a University as well. Any aircraft you purchase with grant funds are technically "Public Aircraft" that are attached to a "Public Organization", in this case Caltech University. You will need to get a Certificate of Authorization (COA) as a public organization with the FAA to move forward. You will need a COA for each site that you are hoping to operate in regardless of the aircraft you use or altitude. You'll need an FAA qualified flight crew and an airworthiness statement for your aircraft as well N-number registration.

    First step is to create an account with FAA online system and get your COA started. As part of the application, you'll need to show that you have all landowner permissions etc. 

    Here's a good place to start:

    It's a bit of a process that will probably take you 4+ months to get through, but this is currently the only path for University research.

    I hope that helps,


    Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA)
    • Thank you Nick!

      My current drone is my own because I thought our department would make me
      go through a lot of hoops.

      I wanted to demonstrate that my proposal was practical by producing data from
      our land first.

      Going forward, it would be to my advantage to carry a bigger payload and for that
      I would be seeking funds.

      Our institute allows me to seek private funds, not public in some cases.

      Does this change the game?

    • I think it ultimately comes down to what organization you are representing. If you are representing the University then a COA on behalf of the University will be needed, but if you are just doing research as a private citizen with your own funds then you fall under the Hobbyist category. If you are representing a private organization then the Section 333 for Commercial COA's would be your best route.

      It sounds to me like the Forestry division is requiring a COA period before they will give you the needed permits to operate over their land, we have the same situation in Hawaii where a number of agencies will only allow UAV's with a COA to be permitted. As the FAA rules become more widely understood, I think you'll see more and more landowners requiring a COA- more so to protect themselves and to have an official way of accountability for UAV activity in their jurisdiction. 

      I'm teaching a UAV workshop that goes over FAA COA's and rules if you ever find yourself in Hawaii in the next year or so ;)


    • Hi Dan,

      I'm a student myself, and currently looking at the same thing as you. I have also spent my own money on a UAV.  Take a look at this:

      There are 2 different kinds of COA. One for Private enterprises (non-government) and one for Public (government).  The fire department in my county was able to obtain a P-COA very easily.  They do not need a FAA pilot.

      I am not 100% sure, but I think this is an option for a university. HOWEVER, this does not allow you to do 'drone research' per say, BUT it does allow you to use one for a specific operation, in a specific area, over a specific amount of time.  So, you could put in a request asking for permission to use a drone to monitor your chosen area, and then monitor it with your small UAV.

  • I think in the end unless there is some large voice or voices standing up for common sense on our side it's a losing battler. AMA seems to be the biggest voice for molders. I think it's worth the annual fee just for that reason alone. I don't work for them or know anybody that does... just say'n. 

    • Hi Richard,

      I belong to the AMA too and I think they are a great organization, frankly if it weren't for them, I doubt we'd be allowed to do anything at all.

      They have been very actively campaigning on our behalf and are no doubt at least somewhat responsible for the more measured approach that the FAA is now taking.

      And we have a swell AMA field at the North end of town, a tremendous asset.

      The AMA has struggled to keep up with the explosion of change (and growth) that multicopters, FPV and autonomous flight has meant and all in a really short period of time.

      But they are probably our biggest single asset.

      and Dan - Science can be a hobby too, it is for a lot of us, so wave the science flag but wave the hobby flag too.



    • I've just joined the AMA, and I'm hoping I'll soon be able to use the local AMA field!

    • What's the AMA? I thought that was the American Medical Association?
    • Unfortunate duplication of Acronyms:

      AMA = Academy of Model Aeronautics = the Primary Model flying club in the US - By Far.

    • Oh yes. I forgot about this post. I googled it. Found Academy of Model Aeronautics, and joined!
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