UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Army Tests ‘Sense and Avoid’ Technology (Update)

June 28, 2012 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

Avoiding Collisions

(Updates with press briefing and CORRECTS that Gray Eagle NOT the test aircraft)

The U.S. Army has taken a step closer to making unmanned aircraft safe to fly in civilian airspace.

In a series of demonstrations this month (June 4-8 and June 18-22) Army officials say they have validated the technology and capabilities of the Ground-Based Sense and Avoid System at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.

A Ground Based Sense and Avoid System Operator (foreground) monitors the system inside one of the Ground Control Stations during the GBSAA demonstrations at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. In the background are two UAS operators. (U.S. Army photo)

Three real flights using Warrior — an MQ-1C Gray Eagle predecessor — and smaller RQ-5 Hunter and even smaller RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft at Dugway, tested the sense and avoid system. There were four additional simulated flights including ones using flight operations data from the air space surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah and Boston, Massachusetts. In the final live test, the two Shadows were flown at each other. One was equipped with the Ground-Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) System. The other wasn’t aware of its surroundings, but collision was avoided thanks to the GBSAA.

“I am extremely confident that we have a system that will be successful in safely providing a sense and avoid capability to Army [unmanned aircraft systems],” Col. Timothy Baker, project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said in a press statememnt. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), concerned about the safety of air crews and passengers has barred unmanned aircraft — with a few, mostly military exceptions — from flying in commercial airspace, also known as the National Air Space, until a reliable sense and avoid system is developed to prevent collisions or near misses between manned and unmanned aircraft.

At a teleconference briefing today (June 29) with defense and aviation reporters, Viva Austin, product director for the Army’s Unmanned Systems Airspace Integration directorate, said it has been “a really hard road” to develop and test the sense and avoid system because “the Army wants you to go faster and the FAA wants you to slow down.”

The synthetic UAS flight to downtown Salt Lake City in real time versus live traffic and then against recorded Boston airspace data, helped validate that the Phase 2 collision avoidance technology being fielded to five MQ-1C Gray Eagle training sites not only works “but is almost ready to go prime time,” Austin said. 

Gray Eagles were not available for the June GBSAA system tests at Dugway, she added. Future plans call for spending the next year ensuring the software and hardware meet Army code standards then applying for FAA authorization to fly Gray Eagles using the GBSAA system in and around Fort Hood, Texas in Fiscal 2014 and Fort Riley, Kansas in 2015.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS (photo courtesy General Atomics)

Meanwhile, General Atomics Aeronautical Industries, the manufacturer of the Gray Eagle, says the first full Army company equipped with the large unmanned aircraft has been deployed. Twelve of the long-endurance reconnaissance and attack UAS have been deployed with Company F/227.T

The Army has been working on integrating unmanned aircraft like the Gray Eagle with manned aircraft like the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Gray Eagles have logged over 1,700 flight hours during 238 flights over the initial seven-month training and evaluation period.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Aircraft, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Technology, Unmanned Aircraft, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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