The US Army is preparing to use a prototype ground-based sense-and-avoid (GBSAA) system to allow UAS operators to fly vehicles in civilian airspace corridors between military training areas.

The work follows success the Army has achieved using GBSAA for day and night General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle traffic pattern operations at its El Mirage test site in California.

While the military handles its own UAS certification and pilot/operator training functions, it must comply with US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airspace regulations, the most onerous being an onboard "see and avoid" capability. To date, that has meant obtaining a certificate of authorization (COA) from the FAA for training or humanitarian flights that need to take place outside of a limited number of restricted airspace zones around the country. Flights in civilian airspace must also be in daytime only and have a manned aircraft in trail to provide airborne sense and avoid functions normally carried out by a pilot.

US Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle
 © General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
US Army General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle

At El Mirage however, the Army is having success in using a GBSAA that will allow for day and night UAS traffic pattern training operations.

Viva Austin, head of airspace integration concepts for the US Army's UAS project office, said the next logical step in expanding that capability will be to connect El Mirage with restricted airspace at Edwards Air Force base through a corridor or FAA-controlled airspace. Tests, which will use the same multiple ground radar-based intruder alert system and special software and protection procedures for UAS operators, are set to begin early in 2012, Austin says.

The Army had originally considered GBSAA as a "gap filler" for smaller aircraft until airborne sense and avoid technology arrived, but "as we went along, we realized GBSAA was not going away," said Austin. "We're finding quickly that using [onboard] see and avoid sensors is harder and harder to do."

She adds that a request for information is about to be released by the military to get industry's help in solving the hurdles with airborne-based sense and avoid systems.

Source: Flight Daily News