NASA-led team to study four-phase implementation

A NASA-led team has begun a programme designed to enable remotely or autonomously operated unmanned air vehicles to fly routinely within the US national airspace system, with the initial goal of opening up airspace above 40,000ft (12,200m) to high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aircraft by the end of fiscal year 2006.

The start of the Access 5 effort has been put off for around a year by legal and bureaucratic delays, but aims to eventually open up airspace on a routine basis to "remotely operated aircraft" (ROA) operating from designated airports, including for emergency landings. Officially named the HALE ROA project, the Access 5 team encompasses NASA, the US Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration, as well as UNITE, the UAV National Industry Team that comprises Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, AeroVironment, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Aurora Flight Sciences.

Initially funded to fiscal year 2008 to the tune of $103 million, the first-year budget of around $8.4 million is being used primarily for planning and validating requirements for UAVs flying above 40,000ft and to support NASA observations of the General Atomics-built Altair, which is being used by the US Coast Guard for a fisheries patrol and surveillance exercise in Alaska over the mid-year period. The programme is expected to eventually use a wide variety of UAVs from the Perseus B and AeroVironment-built Pathfinder-Plus to the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk and piloted surrogate HALE UAV demonstrators such as the Scaled Composites-built Proteus.

The initial 40,000ft altitude and above target marks the first of four planned stages. The second stage, provisionally targeted for FY08, is aimed at routine operations of HALE UAVs above 18,000ft with restrictions. The third phase is expected to clear UAVs for routine access to ROA-designated airports with emergency landings in restricted areas, while the fourth will clear most operating restrictions, allowing operators to emulate the ordinary "file and fly" rules of conventional, piloted aircraft.

Finalisation of all four phases requires $360 million. Neither this, nor the current $103 million funding, include additional financial support from the UNITE team, which for the first phase will be almost $30 million, says NASA.



Source: Flight International