"Detect, see and avoid" system on trial could lead to unrestricted UAV flights by 2008

Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have joined forces with AeroVironment, Aurora Flight Sciences, General Atomics and Scaled Composites to help a NASA-led drive to permit unrestricted civil airspace access for high-altitude unmanned air vehicles.

The industry team joins NASA, the US Department of Defence and Federal Aviation Administration under a joint sponsored research agreement aimed at allowing UAVs access to the US national airspace system by the end of 2008. The project - which has the working title Access 5 - is seen as an ambitious successor to NASA's environmental research aircraft and sensor technology (ERAST) programme, which ends in September.

As part of work to provide the FAA with what a UAV and its operator will need to obtain an "equivalent level of safety" to a manned aircraft, NASA and Scaled Composites are testing a detect, see and avoid (DSA) system. This is being developed to allow a UAV to be flown routinely and reliably from the ground in national civil airspace.

The results from the latest tests, which use Scaled Composites' Proteus as a UAV surrogate, are expected to provide the database for the safety requirements that the team plans to pass to the FAA by early next year.

The Proteus has been equipped with an Amphitech OASys 35GHz radar obstacle awareness system, developed to prevent helicopters from hitting power lines. The radar augments a Goodrich Skywatch traffic advisory system fitted to the Proteus for trials last year in New Mexico, when three aircraft flew in conflict with transponder-equipped machines.

In the new tests at Mojave, California, flights will involve a wider variety of target aircraft, mostly without an operating transponder.

The DSA demonstration is expected to cover 22 near-collision events involving co-operative and non-co-operative, single and multiple targets. Several types of aircraft are being tested, ranging from a NASA Boeing F/A-18 and Beechcraft Duchess to a Stinson Voyager, a glider and a hot-air balloon.

The tests will evaluate the ability of the DSA to provide a ground-based flight controller with redundant situation awareness of all co-operative aircraft within a 60km (32nm) radius and all non-co-operative aircraft within 11km.

Source: Flight International