The largest test yet of NASA‘s Unmanned Aircraft Systems traffic management (UTM) research platform was held April 19 at six FAA UAS test sites.
The test included up to 24 unmanned aircraft, commonly called drones, that were remotely flown simultaneously around the country.
In Texas, at Port Mansfield, about two hours south of Corpus Christi, four UAS took flight at 11 a.m. The three quad-copters and one small fixed-wing craft launched and landed at the regional airport.
“We had a series of operational flights at 11, noon, 1 and 1:30 p.m.,” said Jerry Hendrix, executive director of the Lone Star UAS Center’ at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “All four times we did have aircraft in the air. And we had a report that there were 22 in the air simultaneously, so we consider it a success.”
The test boasts several firsts:
- First multi-site test of NASA’s UTM research platform.
- First coordinated test across all six FAA test sites.
- Most simultaneous, live UAS flights under the UTM research platform.
- First UTM demonstration with live flights and simulated flights in the same scenario.
- First demonstration of several independent UTM research client implementations.
- First live use of NASA-developed UTM displays and apps at each test site.
Using the UTM platform, engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, monitored the flights remotely from each of the six FAA test sites in Texas, Alaska, North Dakota, Nevada, New York, and Virginia. (The Virginia site also had UAS launches in Maryland.)
The purpose of this test was for operators from all six test sites to interact with the UTM research platform at geographically diverse locations, using various aircraft and different software clients to test rural, within line-of-sight UAS operations so that NASA, in collaboration with the FAA, can obtain information to further refine and develop the research.
“This provides considerable data for NASA to assess their framework,” Hendrix said.
Mathew Nelson was one of the UAS pilots at the Texas site.
“Using a traffic management framework to separate the aircraft and provide position awareness to air traffic control or to a mission commander helps us provide space between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft and actually promotes the safety of integrating those two into the airspace,” he said.
The Lone Star Center and the other sites will participate in another similarly coordinated mission in October in Nevada to further test this research platform as it continues to develop.