Drone inspections company Sky-Futures and Bristow Group, a provider of industrial aviation services, recently went to Galliano, La., to conduct an interoperability test between a helicopter and an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) – representing a milestone in the companies’ joint efforts to implement their complementary manned/unmanned aircraft services to clients in the Americas.
Sky-Futures operated an AscTec F8 drone with a Ping-2020 automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system mounted to its frame. The Federal Aviation Administration-approved Ping-2020 was developed by uAvionix, a California-based company that specializes in developing small, lightweight transponder systems.
Bristow operated its Sikorsky S-92 and received the ADS-B signal using ForeFlight’s Stratus 2S. The Stratus received the Ping-2020’s data and displayed the UAS position and altitude on an iPad carried by the pilots.
For the 20-minute exercise, the Bristow Sikorsky S-92 hovered 500 feet above ground while the UAS flew toward the helicopter while maintaining a horizontal distance of 200 feet away from the aircraft. The Sky-Futures drone was stepped up in 100-foot increments to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level. The S-92 pilots were able to monitor the position and altitude of the UAS on their iPad during the entire flight and without actual visual contact of the device.
“These interoperability trials provided valuable insight and learning for safe operations between manned and unmanned aircraft using electronic conspicuity technology,” says Nick Rogers, chief regulatory and training officer for Sky-Futures. “As specific categories of commercial unmanned operations develop, we expect this technology to become a prerequisite. Future airspace must be interoperable, and Sky-Futures will continue to work with its trusted partner, Bristow, and regulators globally to safely realize this future.”
As UAS activity increases, effective communication between manned and unmanned aircraft will become essential to safe operations, explains Sky-Futures. In turn, Sky-Futures USA now equips it drones with ADS-B when operating offshore.
Jonathan Baliff, president and CEO of Bristow Group, adds, “The successful execution of this interoperability test is an excellent step forward to demonstrate that helicopters and UAVs can operate safely as a complementary service – providing additional opportunities for Bristow and Sky-Futures to jointly offer a higher level of situational awareness for our aircrews and safe, new and innovative services to commercial and government clients.”
Sky-Futures offers drone inspection services for a variety of vertical infrastructure markets, including utilities, telecommunications, oil and gas, and renewables. On the other hand, Bristow Group’s aviation services include helicopter transportation, search and rescue, and aircraft support services – including maintenance and training – to government and civil organizations.