The Applied Aviation Research Center on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus is continuing its work with PrecisionHawk, a provider of advanced commercial drone technologies, on operational testing with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
This partnership comes from PrecisionHawk’s continued work with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Pathfinder program, which involves industry partners exploring the expansion of drone operations in U.S. airspace.
Kansas State Polytechnic and PrecisionHawk previously collaborated last summer on a series of controlled field experiments to observe pilots’ decision-making when flying in extended visual line of sight (EVLOS). The studies were conducted to determine an acceptable safety level in response time of drone pilots when visually detecting a manned intruder in their airspace. As a result of this collaboration, PrecisionHawk was able to attain the only EVLOS waiver in the nation from the FAA for commercial unmanned aircraft operations, says the university.
This summer, PrecisionHawk asked Kansas State Polytechnic to participate in phase three of the Pathfinder program. Phase three – the final phase of Pathfinder – is testing the reliability of technological aids when flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), and it aims to provide an operational risk assessment to the FAA to help further define safety regulations for operating UAS in commercial airspace.
“This research is important for quantifying the risks associated with unmanned aircraft operations beyond visual line of sight of the operator,” says Andi Meyer, research program manager at the Applied Aviation Research Center. “Technological aids are needed for such operations, but they still need validation and reliability testing before the industry can move forward. This field-testing provides data for PrecisionHawk’s operational risk assessment that is a critical piece of the regulatory approval process.”
During the experiments – again, taking place on Knopf farm in central Kansas – volunteers used computers with PrecisionHawk’s proprietary drone mapping software program, which provided a map view of where a drone was flying and monitored when and where the manned aircraft entered the airspace. The participants then used the software to survey the area and ultimately determine if an adjustment of the unmanned aircraft’s flight path was necessary to ensure safe operations.
As part of the field test, PrecisionHawk used its traffic and conflict-alerting system, LATAS, which provides unmanned tracking and displays ground and air obstacles in real time. In support of a drone safety solution, the MITRE Corp. developed a set of visual warnings to augment that display and aid pilot decision-making using the LATAS framework. The conflict alerting and display system allows pilots to maintain a well-clear area – keeping their flight path clear of other air traffic to avoid air-to-air collisions. Results of the field test will help inform requirements for such systems, says Kansas State.
MITRE also conducted non-cooperative sensor field-testing using low-cost sensors, which are designed to be flown on small UAS to sense and avoid other aircraft. The Applied Aviation Research Center flew a manned Cessna 172 aircraft from Kansas State Polytechnic in a series of maneuvers near the unmanned aircraft’s mounted sensors. MITRE’s competitive data-collection exercise was designed to provide insights into a range of detect-and-avoid capabilities that could be useful for small UAS missions, says the university.
“Feedback from MITRE and the participating companies was terrific,” states Kurt Carraway, UAS executive director of the Applied Aviation Research Center. “We’re proud to be able to contribute to this exciting work, which we hope will ultimately help propel the UAS industry forward by introducing new technologies that enhance aviation safety to further promote the successful integration of UAS into the national airspace. We look forward to continuing this relationship with MITRE in conducting future tests.”