December 30, 2013
Credit: Northrop Grumman
After shortlisting 25 proposals from 24 states, the FAA has selected six test sites across the U.S. to conduct civil unmanned aircraft system (UAS) research.
Geographic and climatic diversity were key requirements for the selection. The six selected operators are: the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The test sites, to begin operation within 180 days, will conduct research to help the FAA develop regulations and operational procedures for the safe integration of UAS into national airspace. Establishing the sites is a key step toward meeting the congressional deadline to integrate UAS by September 2015.
University of Alaska Fairbanks leads a multi-state team that includes Hawaii and Oregon. The team will operate a pan-Pacific complex of 14 test ranges — seven in Alaska, four in Oregon and three in Hawaii — in seven climate zones, covering overland, oceanic, coastal, arctic, tropical and desert conditions.
According to the FAA, the team’s research plan includes developing standards for UAS categories, state monitoring and navigation, and safety standards for UAS operations.
The Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems plans to work on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements, the FAA says. The state’s test resources include airfields and special-use airspace in sparsely populated areas.
Griffiss International, in central New York state, plans to focus its research on sense-and-avoid capabilities for unmanned aircraft and integrating UAS into congested northeast airspace. The team also plans to develop verification and validation processes for UAS test and evaluation.
North Dakota has established the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority to operate its temperate-climate test site, which will focus on high-reliability data link technology, human-factors research and developing essential airworthiness data, the FAA says.
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center will operate a site focused on developing protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing of unmanned aircraft system. The team includes the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute and the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.