Through the agency's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS-NAS) project, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Honeywell International Inc. are flying a series of tests that began on June 17 and will run through July at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.
This third series of tests builds upon the success of similar experiments – which were conducted late last year – that demonstrated a proof-of-concept sense-and-avoid system. The tests engage the core air traffic infrastructure and supporting software components through a live and virtual environment to demonstrate how an autonomous aircraft interacts with air traffic controllers and other air traffic.
‘This is the first time that we are flight testing all of the technology developments from the project at the same time,’ according to Laurie Grindle, UAS-NAS project manager at Armstrong.
This series is made up of two phases: The first is focused on validation of sensor, trajectory and other simulation models by using live data. Some of the tests will be flown with an Ikhana aircraft – based at Armstrong – that has been equipped with an updated sense-and-avoid system. The system includes a new traffic collision-avoidance program and other software from Honeywell.
Other tests will involve an S-3B plane serving as a high-speed piloted surrogate aircraft, which is from NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
Both tests will use other aircraft following scripted flight paths to intrude on the path the autonomous craft is flying – prompting it to either issue an alert or maneuver out of the other aircraft's path. The team will also conduct the first full test of an automatic collision-avoidance capability on autonomous aircraft.
During the June 17 test, which lasted a little more than five hours, the team accomplished 14 encounters using the Ikhana aircraft and a Honeywell-owned Beech C90 King Air acting as the intruder. A second test was flown the following day, with a total of 23 encounters. The project team plans to fly more than 200 encounters throughout the first phase of the test series.
The second phase of the third test series will begin in August and will include a T-34 plane equipped with a proof-of concept control and non-payload communications system.