The Department of Interior had 182 drone aircraft in FY 2015

RQ-11 Raven

Photo above: an RQ-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is launched by Sgt. Dane Phelps, from 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during a joint U.S. and Iraqi cordon and search operation in Patika Province, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory. The Department of the Interior has 105 RQ-11 A/B Unmanned Aerial Systems.

In fiscal year 2015 four agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior had a total of 182 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Most, if not all of them, were acquired through military surplus at no cost, according to Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Randy Eardley. He said the number of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) enabled the DOI to replace aircraft that became unserviceable during testing without establishing and funding an expensive maintenance program to return those aircraft to full use.

In fact, one UAV, a Super Bat, crashed after it was inadvertently launched from the catapult without the engine running.

Mr. Eardley told us:

Now that DOI has operationally tested and evaluated the aircraft and is now moving toward purpose-built UAS, the DOD systems, the Ravens/T-hawks will be transferred to other federal agencies (to be determined) to continue providing benefit.

RQ-16 T-Hawk
RQ-16 T-Hawk. U.S. Army photo.

The two most popular models within the Department are the Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk (47 each) and the AeroVironment RQ-11 A/B Raven (105 each). As you might have guessed, these aircraft are far more expensive than the hobbyist UAVs that have interfered with air tankers and helicopters fighting wildland fires.

According to Wikipedia the hand-launched Raven fixed wing system, which includes four aircraft, two ground control systems, and spare parts, runs about $173,000. It is propelled by an electric motor.

In 2007 the U.S. Navy awarded a contract for 20 T-Hawks paying about $375,000 each. Named after a tarantula hawk, it is a ducted fan vertical takeoff and landing aircraft powered by a gasoline engine.

Six types of DOI UAS
The six types of UAS the DOI had in FY 2015. Data is from the DOI.

In FY 2015 the DOI flew 46 UAS missions for a total of 140 hours. No missions were flown by any of the twenty-five Falcon, Falcon Hover, or Pulse Vapor 55 systems.

Below is a summary of the use of the Department of the Interior Unmanned Aerial Systems in fiscal year 2015.

AgencyNumber of MissionsNumber of hours flownAircraft
BLM2269Super Bat, T-Hawk
FWS315Raven
USGS1539Raven Super Bat, T-hawk
OAS617T-Hawk, Super Bat