NASA and partners test unmanned aircraft technology in N.D.

Cirrus in flight


GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A research team made of officials from government, industry, and higher education has completed two weeks of flight testing of “sense and avoid” technology that could some day help unmanned aircraft better integrate into the national air transportation system.

The MITRE Corporation and the University of North Dakota (UND) developed automatic sense and avoid computer software codes that were flown on board a NASA Langley Research Center general aviation aircraft. The NASA Langley Cirrus SR-22 flew 147 maneuvers during 39 hours of flight tests at the Grand Forks International Airport. A supporting UND aircraft flew more than 40 hours during the tests.

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Creating an unmanned aircraft that can sense-and-avoid

University of North Dakota electrical engineer Naima Kaabouch, second from right, and UND mechanical engineer William Semke, second from left, work with students on a UAS unit in the UAS lab on campus.

By JUAN MIGUEL PEDRAZA, Office of University Relations, University of North Dakota

It looks easy to fly unmanned aircraft: Launch, fly, land. But there’s lots more to keeping an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) safely aloft than toggling controls from the ground.

“Among the major technical challenges facing the UAS industry is the sense-and-avoid system aboard the aircraft,” said Naima Kaabouch, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of North Dakota College of Engineering and Mines and an expert in sense-and-avoid electronics and software.

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UAS operation in the homeland

“According to a recent national poll conducted by Monmouth University in New Jersey, nearly two-thirds of Americans support the use of unmanned aircraft [systems] (UAS) to protect the U.S. borders and control illegal immigration. Eighty percent of Americans support the use of unmanned aircraft to help in search and rescue missions.”

The above is included in Michael Toscano’s prepared testimony for the House Committee on Homeland Security hearing set for July 19, 2012. Toscano is the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

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Drones getting easier to fly in U.S.

A May 31 story by Sarah Childress on the Frontline website is titled, “It’s Getting Easier to Fly Drones in the U.S.” The story links to a few videos posted by the Mesa (Arizona) County Sheriff’s Office showing how they use their UAS. Childress also links to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Lists of Drone Certificates” which are both mapped and in list form. While this story and link focuses primarily on privacy implications (and there are many), we must not forget the safety implications of UAS operating in U.S. Airspace.

Fat Head enters UAS marketplace

The UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) market is coming. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but it’s coming all the same. Late last month, Wichita-based Fat Head Solutions announced its hung out its shingle in the UAS market and, “will provide low cost, high value, and complete subsystem solutions for small unmanned aerial systems.” Fat Head plans to “capitalize on the emerging $17 billion per year UAS market by focusing on the small end with: camera, landing, video and power systems and sensor solutions.

UAS – friend or foe?

“Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are the future,” according to the September 2011 European Aviation Safety Agency newsletter. Three pages of the eight-page newsletter are dedicated to UAS, which includes some quotable nuggets:

“to fully achieve the UAS industry’s vision, UAS will come in all shapes and sizes and operational constraints will have to be relaxed to allow the same rights to access airspace as manned aircraft.”

“[EASA] is aware that the widespread  introduction of UAS is likely to be met with public anxiety and the manned aviation community and general public may rightly question whether those same fears regarding ‘pilotless aircraft’ are still present today or have they been largely overcome in the evolution to UAS.”

Download a copy of the newsletter to read more.

Drone tests… coming to airspace above you?

AOL Defense is reporting the FAA and Pentagon are “carving out between four to 10 “bubbles” in civilian airspace above the United States to test UAS [unmanned aerial systems]”. These bubbles will be located are the U.S. “to show that UAS can fly in heavily-traveled commercial airspace in all conditions across the United States.”