New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is conducting unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flights over the Atlantic Ocean to test the feasibility of safely integrating drones into the public airspace.
NJIT will also assess the research and operational capabilities of several data-collecting sensors aboard the aircraft. The aircraft will incorporate a weather sensor to gather information on atmospheric conditions, as well as devices with mapping, communications relay and high-definition video capabilities.
Michael Chumer, a research professor of information systems at NJIT and director of the Crisis Communication Center and of UAS Applied Research for the university, is the mission’s research director. Pennsylvania-based flight company American Aerospace Advisors Inc. will operate the drones from the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J.
The aircraft will travel up to one nautical mile out over the ocean at a height not to exceed 3,000 feet and will remain airborne for up to one hour. The flights were going to take place Nov. 20-21, but an Associated Press report now says they have been postponed several weeks because of technical difficulties.
NJIT says its mission, broadly defined, is to enhance the country’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities. Its primary goal is to develop drone-borne weather sensors that can predict where a major storm will make landfall as many as two days before existing technology now permits.
Communications relay devices, the institute explains, are designed to function as flying cell towers capable of relaying calls and data from communities in which telecommunications equipment has been knocked out. Enhanced mapping technology would give emergency responders immediate information on damage caused by major storms such as Hurricane Sandy.
The ground-based pilot will be in communication with air traffic controllers during the flight. After the flight, the team will assess the drone’s operational performance, as well as its success in gathering data, which NJIT will share with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and emergency management agencies.
In May, NJIT says, it was the first New Jersey institution to receive a Certificate of Waiver/Authorization from the FAA to conduct UAS test flights into national airspace.
In the future, NJIT says, its drones will have the authorization to fly as far as 14.5 nautical miles out over the ocean, as high as 10,000 feet into the air, and for as many as 14 to 16 hours at a time.
NJIT is a partner in the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, a 40-plus-member consortium located at Virginia Tech, which was designated as one of six test sites authorized to develop procedures to ensure the safe integration of drones into national airspace.