FAA to test unmanned vehicles

June 9, 2010

The integration into the National Airspace System of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is the subject of research by the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center, in cooperation with Insitu Inc., of Bingen, Wash., and the New Jersey Air National Guard.

Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing, will provide two ScanEagle aircraft to the FAA. The FAA will conduct research to guide development of recommendations for integrating UAS into the National Airspace System. AOPA has maintained that certification of UAS with sense-and-avoid capabilities is important to ensure safety and make sure UAS operations don’t result in more flight restrictions. The research will be managed by the FAA’s Research and Technology Development office and conducted at the Technical Center located north of Atlantic City, N.J.

The two-year agreement will enable FAA scientists to study and better understand UAS design, construction, and functionality. Also, researchers will look at the differences in how an air traffic controller would manage an unmanned aircraft versus a manned aircraft by integrating the ScanEagle system into Technical Center air traffic control simulations and studies.

Insitu will train FAA pilots and support staff to fly and maintain the system, and will supply documentation related to the ScanEagle system. The flight testing will take place over the New Jersey Air National Guard’s Warren Grove Range, 20 miles north of the Technical Center.

UAS now fly within the National Airspace System under certificates of authorization, or FAA waivers. The waiver process is issued for public entities and determined on a case-by-case basis, with most UAS operations segregated from other air traffic. More than 1,500 types of UAS are in production worldwide, so it is important to establish the parameters to enable them to operate within the National Airspace System safely and efficiently.

The ScanEagle has flown more than 315,000 hours in military operations, providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It can fly more than 24 hours at a time and has been used in many civil applications, including search-and-rescue operations, fire and flood monitoring, and evacuation efforts conducted in hazardous weather.

UAS are cleared to fly in restricted airspace, including the military airspace at Warren Grove Range, owned and operated by the New Jersey Air National Guard. Another unmanned testing facility now operates adjacent to Fort Sill, Okla., in that facility’s restricted airspace. It is known as the Oklahoma Training Center—Unmanned Systems and was established by the Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratories. The center’s work helps solve issues of UAS use related to public safety, certifications, subsystems testing, and pilot training, along with developing and testing of a national policy on employment and flight operations of UAS in U.S. airspace.