FAA tests detect and avoid equipment with New Mexico State University

Several different flying encounter scenarios were tested using manned and unmanned aircraft at the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Physical Science Laboratory test site at Jornada Experimental Range from 16-18 July 2019. The flight tests are part of a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) project to examine “Small UAS Detect and Avoid Requirements Necessary for Limited Beyond Visual Line of Sight Operations: Separation Requirements and Testing”. The range is one of seven FAA-approved unmanned Aircraft Systems test sites designated to test airborne, ground-based, visual/optical systems, radar and acoustic technology solutions.

Two types of UAS, a multi-rotor and a fixed wing, fitted with detect and avoid equipment, and two manned, NMSU vehicles, the CTLS Light Sport aircraft and Spyder Ultralight aircraft, which posed as the intruder aircraft, were used in the flight testing. An AI-based autonomous collision avoidance system from Iris Automation called Casia was used on the UAS to detect manned aircraft and respond with an avoidance manoeuvre.

Considerations for encounter scenarios included safe separation distances between vehicles of at least 100 feet in lateral separation and 250 feet in vertical separation. The vehicles conducted tests at different encounter angles and cross patterns. Flights were conducted at two altitudes: 100 feet for the UAS and 500 feet for the manned along with 400 feet for the UAS and 650 feet for the manned. The testing assessed when the Iris system was triggered and its limits.

Flight information on both the UAS and manned vehicles was collected, and the research team is due to plot together the information to show the encounters in the coming weeks. NMSU then plans to provide the FAA with details about the performance of the technology. FAA UAS technical project lead Bill Oehlschlager said: ““We have several more flight test events before we actually come up with a comprehensive plan, but we are using each flight test event to further expand the data we need to collect and how the operations need to run. We are using each incremental step to collect more data and make it safer for when we actually do this testing.”

Officials present for the testing included NMSU personnel, FAA sponsors, FAA technical leads, FAA interns, Iris Automation flight personnel, industry representatives, UND and UAF personnel.

As one of 15 core universities for the FAA UAS Center of Excellence, NMSU is also working with the University of North Dakota, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kansas State University and Mississippi State University on the research project. NMSU, UND and UAF are each hosting flight testing on detect and avoid solutions.

In this research area, NMSU is evaluating the requirements for an airborne or ground-based Detect and Avoid system compatible with small UAS (55 pounds and less) operating in limited portions of the National Air Space to comply with the regulations and not increase the risk to other aircraft or people on the ground, beyond what is currently in effect. Additionally, NMSU is accessing the requirements for software along with what are the most feasible airborne or ground-based sensors.

(Image: New Mexico State University, photo Josh Bachman)

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