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Detect and Avoid Technology for UAS a Hot Topic at NBAA2015

Nov. 19, 2015

Despite their potential for applications within multiple industries, including throughout the business aviation community, the widespread deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is currently limited by the inability to deploy systems on missions beyond line of sight (BLOS) from the operator. The session “Detect and Avoid Technology for UAS,” held Nov. 18 in the Innovation Zone on the exhibit hall floor at NBAA2015, offered insight into when autonomous, long-distance UAS operations may become a reality.

Detect and Avoid Technology for UAS a Hot Topic at NBAA2015

“There are two specific technical challenges [that] are the largest hurdles that, as an industry, we are trying to tackle,” said Insitu’s Paul McDuffee, who moderated the panel. “The first is DAA [detect and avoid]; how do we keep these vehicles from conflicting with manned aircraft in the National Airspace System.”

For true autonomous operation, a UAS must be able to operate through Class G, D, and E airspace as it transitions to and from operating environments in Class A and special-use airspace. Although the current emphasis is on larger UAS like the General Atomics Predator 2, presenter George Ligler with PMEI, Inc. said he expects DAA technology to eventually scale down to smaller unmanned aircraft.

“Platforms capable of flying into Class A will [need to] have ADS-B Out, at least a Mode C transponder, and various additional equipment,” he noted. “That means Group 4 and 5 platforms, and in another generation maybe going down into Group 3 medium-sized platforms.” Ligler also noted ongoing work by RTCA Special Committee 228 to determine initial Minimum Operational Performance Standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (MOPS), which he expects to be released by early 2017.

Secure command and control (C2) functions must also enable reliable communications between the operator and UAS, effectively countering cyberattacks while also operating on discreet frequencies.

Acknowledging concerns of the manned aircraft community of a proliferation of UAS, all panelists stressed the need for extensive testing and verification before UAS are seen operating throughout the NAS.

“This is not about being the first one to the market, but the first one to be able to stay,” noted Parimal Kopardekar, principal investigator for NASA’s NextGen Airspace Project. “Once you allow these operations to occur and prove that they are safe, there will be lots of applications to be scaled.”

Kopardekar also encouraged attendees in the UAS community to share their own DAA research data with the agency, so that a more robust UAS traffic management (UTM) framework may come to fruition.

“We all learned an interesting lesson in history in 1956, when two aircraft collided over the Grand Canyon,” he added. “That started air traffic management, [but] it was reactive. Here we want to be proactive and figure out system needs and applications in a way that avoids mistakes ahead of time.”