NASA to Work with Virginia Tech at UAS Test Site

The selection of six unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test sites by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have an impact on NASA aeronautics research, especially at two NASA Virginia facilities.

NASA says its Langley Research Center in Hampton and Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore are expected to work with the Virginia Tech team, which is based in Blacksburg. According to the FAA, Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risk areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

According to NASA, the Langley center uses unmanned aircraft, such as a scaled airliner model, in its own aviation safety research. NASA adds that Langley researchers have flown the Airborne Subscale Transport Aircraft Research (AirSTAR) model at a Wallops test range.

‘The safe and efficient integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace system is an important national goal, and we at NASA Wallops stand poised and ready to support related testing in the Mid-Atlantic region,’ comments Wallops Director Bill Wrobel. ‘Wallops' location, instrumentation capabilities, restricted airspace, established safety program and past experience in flying unmanned aerial systems make it a valuable member of the team supporting this great endeavor.’

NASA notes that its Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate has an already-established project, called UAS Integration in the NAS (National Airspace System), to help contribute capabilities that reduce technical barriers related to the safety and operational challenges associated with routine civilian use of unmanned aircraft. NASA has identified five sub-projects to address some of the technical challenges: separation assurance/sense and avoid interoperability; human systems integration; communications; certification; and integrated test and evaluation.

‘NASA has testing we plan to do in the next three years, so while we already have airspace we can use, we may also be able to take advantage of the new test sites,’ says Ed Waggoner, head of NASA's Integrated Systems Research Project, which oversees the UAS project. ‘The FAA included NASA and other federal agencies in the review process for the test site selection.’

NASA reports that its research will contribute data needed to help define requirements, regulations and other issues related to integration of civil UAS into U.S. airspace.

The agency adds that Langley researchers have worked in the past with part of the North Dakota team, using a Cirrus SR-22 aircraft as an unmanned aircraft technology test bed to assess ‘sense and avoid’ computer software in Grand Forks, N.D.


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