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Home : News : News
NEWS | June 30, 2023

JBSA Small Unmanned Aerial Systems program reaches milestone

By Andrew C. Patterson 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Russell D. Driggers, Commander, 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio, intends to create JBSA as an innovative enterprise. Part of this innovation mindset is to build smart installations within intelligent facilities. This vision of innovation across the JBSA enterprise includes significant projects, facilities, and infrastructure worth $37 billion.

Small Unmanned Aerial Systems, or sUAS, is one of the innovative programs that has taken hold and is gaining momentum. The office leading this charge is the Installation Basing and Support Agreements and SUAS Commercial off-the-shelf Operations office.

The sUAS, or drone program, provides mission support to civil engineering, public affairs, logistics, and other units as innovatively needed. That support includes rooftop and tall-structure inspections, facility infrastructure inspections, geospatial and topographical mapping, historical recording, command-information perspectives, and fire and emergency services.

In 2017, the drone program started with developing guidance for the hobbyist or recreational systems operating within JBSA. Moving forward, the first non-recreational drone, an R80 Sky Raider from FLIR Teledyne, was purchased by the 502nd ABW, and a team was developed and trained on using the system. Over the past several years, the program has acquired four Sky Raiders. A cadre of 20 pilots across JBSA, within the 502nd Air Base Wing, have been trained on this unit.

"Our office oversees the small unmanned aerial system program operating within the fenceline of JBSA," said Chris Kelly, 502nd ABW Installation Basing, Support Agreements, and sUAS program director. "We provide all the guidance and we have a concept of employment that allows us to operate at all JBSA's locations."

"I think it's great that we find innovative ways to use the sUAS drones to support JBSA missions," said Jacob Love, 502nd ABW Installation Basing chief and instructor pilot. "This will allow us to support the wing as we go forward capturing 3D mapping, modeling, and emergency management tasks using the drones."

According to Kelly, the long-term plan is to have individual groups and organizations own, manage, and run their own sUAS programs. They then develop policies and procedures to accomplish their specific innovative mission-related tasks.

"I think that this is the future for civil engineering because it gives them the capability of being able to safely accomplish roof inspections, instead of placing workers in a cherry picker or on a rooftop," said Jay Taylor, 502nd ABW Installation Basing instructor pilot. "We've used them [drones] during the forest fires up at Camp Bullis and were able to pinpoint locations for fire and emergency services."

"Any unit seeking drones or looking to stand up an internal drone program can get help from us," said Preston Wall, 502nd ABW sUAS operations lead. "Jacob Love and I attended an instructor course last year in Colorado, enabling us to instruct here at Joint Base San Antonio."

In addition, Wall and Taylor had the honor of being invited to conduct a historical 3D mapping of the Hindenburg hangars on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. A historical record will be available if these facilities ever require rebuilding or 3D printing.

Earlier this month, the 502nd sUAS team instructed their second course here at JBSA, graduating 10 new Sky Raider aircraft pilots. These pilots can now utilize the R80 aircraft to bring innovation to their respective units and missions across the JBSA enterprise.

"I have four instructor pilots within the 502nd headquarters, and they're all expert instructors who understand small unmanned aerial systems," said Kelly. "Now we're training pilots from across the entire enterprise to go out and be subject matter experts using this technology to accomplish their units' mission."

If you are interested in becoming a drone pilot or starting a program at your unit, please get in touch with the sUAS team at or