A two-year, $750,000 US Air Force Research Laboratory project is examining requirements for the automatic operation of unmanned air vehicles in an airport's terminal area.

Ending this October, the research is being carried out by Northrop Grumman, which is investigating the requirements for ground operations such as taxiing, hand-off to the tower, take-off approval and pre-flight checks.

"We focused on non-[global positioning system] guidance options such as taxiway edges, [runway] centrelines and markings," says Northrop Grumman integrated systems division's vehicle management systems senior research engineer Han Park.

Park's team also considered feature recognition, airport layout databases, speech reconition for tower UAV interaction and used data from the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) Grand Challenge competition. Grand Challenge saw UGVs navigate across rough off-road terrain to a target destination.

Source: Flight International