FAA Selects University to Test UAS Certification Standards


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is turning to Kansas State University Salina (K-State) to test certification standards for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Under a memorandum of agreement signed by the university and FAA on Aug. 29, K-State will validate industry standards for UAS weighing 55 pounds or less set by the F38 technical committee of ASTM International. K-State will use its own UAS with the standards to apply for airworthiness certification.

Formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM International works in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards. The project will determine where the F38 standards may be overly prescriptive or need further development

‘This project is of national importance in that this could well be the first small UAS to obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate for routine operations in our national airspace system here in the lower 48,’ notes Kurt Barnhart, professor and head of the department of aviation and executive director of the university's Applied Aviation Research Center.

‘This airworthiness certificate would likely be a 'restricted' airworthiness certificate similar to that held by an agricultural aircraft, meaning that these vehicles would be restricted from operating above certain locations, such as over a populated area or at night,” adds Barnhart.

‘Successful certification of a small unmanned aircraft system using the F38 standards as a certification basis would be a giant step toward commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace system,’ notes Mark Blanks, UAS program manager at K-State. ‘Even if certification is unobtainable, the weaknesses of the F38 standards will be identified, greatly expediting the final development of robust, practical standards.’

K-State is the ideal location to test the standards, Blanks reports, because of the university's expertise with UAS, its close proximity to the Small Airplane Directorate in Kansas City and Wichita Aircraft Certification Office, and the university’s involvement with ASTM's F38 technical committee. Blanks is chair of the F38 subcommittee for flight operations.

The university will also work closely with the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University throughout the project.

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