Earlier today my colleague Graham Warwick wrote a story saying that Boeing subsidiary Insitu has provided the FAA with a Scan Eagle system for research to help develop recommendations for integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system.
The system, including two Scan Eagle small unmanned aircraft, has been delivered to the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. under a cooperative research and development agreement signed by Insitu.
Similar moves are underway in Australia where developers are also using Scan Eagle to help figure out the same issue. Developers are in the final stages of validating automated airspace management technology that they say within a year could allow unmanned and manned commercial aircraft to share common airspace.
The work is being undertaken as part of the last stage of Smart Skies - a three-year, AUS$10 million effort between Boeing and Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (Arcaa). The Arcaa research group is a joint venture between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Csiro) and Queensland University of Technology.
Scan Eagle launch (above), and recovery (below). Apologies for the bad tracking on the launch video!
"Within 12 months I'd like to see a viable commercially funded operation doing real work," says Andrew Duggan, managing director of Insitu Pacific - a division of the Boeing company that is developing the Scan Eagle UAV family. Duggan says initial applications could include pipeline, powerline and other airborne utility roles.
Smart Skies is based on three main technologies which are being validated in a series of integrated flight trials being conducted in Queensland. These include an automated centralized separation management system, a mobile radar system and a detect sense and avoid (DSA) capability.
The air traffic separation system automatically keeps aircraft away from each other, sensing ahead both potential conflicts as well as downstream proximity problems that may result from avoiding initial encounters. The mobile radar system is a trailer-mounted, low cost, maritime X-band surveillance unit, while the DSA is made up of both laser-radar based static and optically-based dynamic sense-and-act systems.
The flights tests involve fully autonomous fixed and rotary-wing UAVs, a Cessna 172R (optionally piloted to provide surrogate UAV capability), and real-time multi-aircraft simulations. Ground elements include a mobile operations center, the ground-based radar and satellite-based communications infrastructure which links Arcca for interactive flight simulations with Boeing facilties in the U.S and researchers in the U.K.
"We have three real aircraft and the simulated aircraft are all on the network," says Arcaa's Rodney Walker. To verify system performance in simulated complex airspace environments, flight tests include simultaneous deployment of the Arcaa UAVs and C172 at Kingaroy airfield, Queensland. Separation management is provided via satellite from Boeing's Palmade, Calif-facility, while another simulated aircraft is provided by the U.K's University of Sheffield.
The aircraft combine with simulated targets to create the scenario of up to 30 aircraft flying within a 10 naut mile radius congested zone. In tests so far the system has proved so robust that evaluations with as many as 50 targets are being planned for the final round say researchers. Early planning is now underway for a follow-on Smart Skies 2.