NASA's testing a sense-and-avoid system that will allow fully-autonomous, commercial UAVs to operate in civilian airspace. The trials are being held at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California as part of the agency's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS-NAS) project.
"Our team is working toward solving our common goal of overcoming the challenges of integrating UAS into the National Airspace System; a topic that has increasingly proved its relevance as several industries across the country identify the need to fly UAS." UAS-NAS project manager Laurie Grindle said of the project's initial flight tests, held last June. "Completing these recent flight tests has brought us one more step toward accomplishing that goal."
The first phase of the new tests will involve NASA operating its repurposed Predator drone, now named the Ikhana, that's been equipped with the upgraded sense-and-avoid system. NASA plans to fly other aircraft along scripted routes that will stray into the Ikhana's flight path, forcing it to either issue an alert or swerve to avoid the potential collision. "Our researchers and project engineers will be gathering a substantial amount of data to validate their pilot maneuver guidance and alerting logic that has previously been evaluated in simulations," Heather Maliska, Armstrong's UAS-NAS deputy project manager, said in a statement.
The second phase of the tests will take place in August. That will utilize a Beechcraft T-34 outfitted with new control and communications modules which should allow the plane to both fly itself and communicate with air traffic control without human intervention.