Applied Research Associates (ARA) has received authority from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly its Nighthawk IV micro-unmanned aircraft at its facility in Randolph, Vermont.
The company can operate the flights for purposes including customer demonstrations, crew training and research and development, according to a media release from Albuquerque, New Mexico-based ARA.
The “special airworthiness certificate” granted by the FAA follows a review by regulators of factors including safety, manufacturing, inspection, maintenance and crew training procedures related to the 0.9kg (2lb) Nighthawk IV unmanned air system (UAS), says the company.
“The FAA approval of ARA’s combat proven Nighthawk IV micro-UAS technology for use in the national airspace is an important milestone for ARA and its many non-military government customers,” says ARA’s chief executive Rob Sues in the media release. “This proven technology can improve results and decrease costs in traffic accident investigations, search and rescue, drug smuggling, agricultural assessments, flood damage, bridge inspections and many other civilian applications.”
The certificate will allow ARA to demonstrate Nighthawk IV to potential buyers, and should make it easier for buyers to obtain a “certificate of authority” (COA) from the FAA to operate the aircraft, Quinn says.
Customers who use ARA’s safety and procedures checklists (which have already approved by the FAA) may be able to receive a COA in as little as 60 days, Quinn says.
The company plans to seek additional authority to demonstrate Nighthawk IV at some of its other sites in the US, such as those in California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, Robert Quinn, ARA’s division manager of unmanned and security products, tells Flightglobal.
Under current FAA regulations, COAs for Nighthawk IV are only given to law enforcement agencies, universities and public agencies like the US Forest Service, National Park Service and Customs and Border Protection, says Quinn.
The FAA is required under law to create a small unmanned air system rule that would open Nighthawk to commercial operators, but the FAA has not said when the rule will be completed.
Quinn says law enforcement agencies can use Nighthawk IV to assist with search and rescue operations – for instance, to track missing elderly people.
In addition, police can use images and data from Nighthawk IV to examine automobile accident debris fields and determine fault.
The University of Illinois is also interested in using Nighthawk IV to conduct agricultural crop assessments, according to Quinn.The aircraft can fly over fields and determine which sections need more water, fertiliser or pesticide, helping farmers increase yields, he says.
In addition, organisations like the US Army Corps of Engineers could use Nighthawk IV to conduct flood water assessments and to assist with resource management, Quinn says.
News organisations could also use aerial images from the aircraft to generate “dramatic video footage” that would recreate events like police chases, Quinn adds.
Nighthawk IV is the fourth generation of micro-unmanned air systems produced by ARA since 2003, when the company built its first micro-UAS for the US Air Force.
ARA says more than 200 versions of Nighthawk aircraft were combat proven in Iraq by US Army infantry forces.
Nighthawk IV can be launched “by a slight flick of the wrist” or from a tube, and pilots can operate Nighthawk after just 4h of training, ARA says.