Next phase of civil airspace UAS integration trials begin
A new phase of trials for the integration of UAS into UK airspace has begun using a BAE Systems Jetstream 31 flying testbed, the company announced on 13 December.
The trials, being carried out at the company’s Warton, Lancashire, facility, are building on the findings of the collaborative Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA) research and development programme that completed in 2013.
BAE Systems will carry out a series of 17 flights using the testbed to prove the capability, maturity and safe operation of autonomous air technologies controlled by a satellite-communications based link. This has the advantage of being globally available already and therefore enabling operations without the need for new infrastructure.
Sensing technologies, including aircraft and cloud avoidance using only camera input rather than radar, are also to be tested.
The results of the trials will inform the direction of the BAE Systems’ future unmanned aircraft programme and the suitability of testing unmanned aircraft in the UK.
The test flights will see two on-board engineers work with NATS air traffic control experts to continually assess the performance of the systems on the testbed. Flights will take place in non-congested airspace on a route from Warton to Inverness, covering around 300 miles and flying at 15,000ft. A pilot and co-pilot will be in control for take-off and landing; once airborne and in controlled airspace the Jetstream flies itself. On the ground a flight test observer and an UAV commander will monitor the flights via satellite communications.
The testbed contains an aircraft identification antennae which detects other aircraft’s transponder signals as well as a cockpit mounted camera acting as an ‘electronic eye’. This links to the aircraft’s computer systems and enables the Jetstream to ‘see’ potential hazards even if no signals are being emitted. The ‘electronic eye’ of the Jetstream can also recognise different cloud types and, if needed, plot a course that allows evasive action from challenging weather conditions.
Maureen Mccue, BAE Systems’ head of research and technology for the military aircraft and information business, said: ‘Our priority as always is to demonstrate the safe and effective operation of autonomous systems and together with NATS we are working towards the possibility of flying our own unmanned systems in a highly controlled environment in the UK. The trials are an exciting time and will give us technology options that could be applied to our own manned and unmanned aircraft as well potentially enabling us to take some new unmanned aircraft technologies to market.’
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