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Final FAA-mandated UAV test site established in Virginia

The sixth and final US Federal Aviation Administration-mandated unmanned air vehicle (UAV) test site has been established in Virginia.

The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University test site officially opened on 13 August, and follows the opening of the other sites in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas.

In December 2013 the FAA selected six test sites that would help facilitate the utilisation of UAVs in national airspace, all of which have subsequently opened since April 2014. The measures are a result of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, in which the administration was mandated by Congress to ensure UAVs can be fully integrated into the national airspace by 30 September 2015.

Although the process has suffered delays, the FAA has managed to open the test sites and has issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to BP for the first overland UAV operation – for the AeroVironment Puma AE in Alaska.

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After the Virginian test site was formally opened, the Smart Road Flyer – a low-cost multirotor UAS being developed to support research in vehicle and highway systems – was flown. During the flight, the Flyer filmed a simulated accident scene on a “smart road” full-scale highway testbed managed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the FAA says.

The FAA granted Virginia Tech seven COAs for UAV operations covering a two-year period. The other COAs are for the VaCas eSPAARO, Aeryon Sky Ranger, Mantra 2, Sig Rascal and two Avid EDF-8 micro UAVs.

The test site will conduct operations in Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland. Applications tested will include agricultural spray equipment usage, development of aeronautical procedures for the integration of UAVs in towered airspace and developing training and operational procedures for aeronautical surveys of agriculture.

“Having all six national test sites up and running will give us more and better data to help expand the safe use of unmanned aircraft into our airspace,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta says.

Meanwhile, on 12 August the FAA released a solicitation for bids on a UAV centre of excellence (COE) to be set up by 2015.

“The COE will be a geographically disbursed consortium of the FAA, university partners and their affiliates selected by the FAA administrator to conduct UAS-related research, education and training while working jointly on issues of mutual interest and concern,” the FAA says.

The COE will bring together public and private sector parties alongside academic institutions, to create a consortium for identifying UAS-related issues.

The FAA expects the COE to perform short- and long-term basic and applied research through a variety of analyses, development and prototyping activities.

By 22 August universities must declare their intention to submit a proposal and identify their COE team members and affiliates, while the closing date for all proposal submissions is 15 September.

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