Unmanned integration efforts gain speed
By Richard S. Stansbury|December 2016
The Unmanned Systems Program Committee supports the unmanned systems community focused primarily on unmanned aircraft systems and related technologies, but also supports ground, sea and space-based unmanned systems technical communities.
The unmanned aircraft systems community made tremendous strides toward its goal of UAS integration in 2016, with a huge effort going into connecting the UAS community with policy- and rule-makers.
In April, the FAA held a UAS symposium in Daytona Beach, Florida, to discuss UAS integration into the National Airspace System. In May, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the formation of a Drone Advisory Committee, comprised of members from industry, government and academia, to open a dialog between rule-makers and the community. The panel held its inaugural meeting in September.
On Aug. 2, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy held a workshop on “Drones and the Future of Aviation” where it pledged further support to UAS integration efforts that included funding to the National Science Foundation, support for search-and-rescue operations using UAS by the Department of Interior, $5 million to support UAS development in New York state, and support for public and UAS community outreach.
The FAA made further regulatory progress in 2016. An aviation rule-making committee was convened to develop initial guidance regarding the operation of micro-unmanned systems over populated areas. Its final report was delivered to the FAA on April 1. In June, the FAA announced the final rules for Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 107, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which went into effect Aug. 29. Part 107 defines operational restrictions for small UAS operator certification requirements for a new remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating, and a waiver process to request exemptions for some Part 107 restrictions given appropriate risk mitigations.
NASA’s UAS Traffic Management system and associated research program achieved several milestones in 2016. In April, a test was performed in partnership with the FAA’s six UAS test sites in which 24 UAS flights operated under the traffic management system across the multiple sites with up to 22 simultaneous flights. In August, at the Reno-Stead Airport UAS test site in Nevada, NASA performed the first checkout of the traffic management system for Technology Capability Level-2, in which basic principles of air traffic management for low-altitude small UAS operations have been analyzed and some preliminary application of that knowledge has been achieved.
The Defense Department also addressed the path forward for autonomy across their unmanned systems as reported in the Defense Science Board’s “Summer Study on Autonomy.”
A major public concern of UAS technologies is operations outside the current legal framework. In March, the FAA released a report on UAS reported sightings, which included 582 reported encounters by pilots, citizens and law enforcement from Aug. 21, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016. The FAA expanded its Pathfinder Initiative for UAS detection by issuing Cooperative Research and Development Agreements to Gryphon Sensors of New York, Liteeye Systems of Arizona and Sensofusion to evaluate their technologies for UAS detection. The FAA also field tested an FBI-provided mitigation system at John F. Kennedy International Airport versus a variety of UAS platforms.
UAS have also made the news for a variety of positive applications that included these examples. In July, Facebook announced the first full-scale flight test of the Aquila solar-powered high-altitude UAS platform, which is designed to one day provide internet access to remote areas. In July, over 250 unmanned aircraft flights were performed as part of the National Science Foundation’s Cloud-Map project evaluating UAS for applications in precision agriculture and meteorology by a team of universities including. Universities taking part included the University of Kentucky, the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Nebraska. In August, Stony Brook University in New York and Vayu Inc. in Michigan performed the first flight test to transport blood samples from a remote village in Madagascar to a field medical station, paving the way to faster diagnosis for people in remote villages. ★