Project BLUEPRINT trials lay groundwork for open-architecture UK UTM system

Philip Hicks, partner at Campaign Catapult and Principal Consultant and Founder of Pravo Consulting reports on the latest milestones achieved by industry drone and sensor experts and academics in the pursuit of mixed use air space and safe operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations have taken a step forward in the UK with the culmination of the Project BLUEPRINT showcase presented at Cranfield University’s Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) on 25 June. This initiative, under the Innovate UK Future Flight Challenge, aims to develop open-source solutions for establishing drone zones in local areas, ensuring safe and efficient operations.

Project BLUEPRINT, a two-year initiative, has been pivotal in advancing BVLOS drone operations in the UK. The project team successfully developed and integrated minimum viable products (MVPs), laying the groundwork for BVLOS solutions. A comprehensive sensor network was deployed, enhancing situational awareness and safety. Initial testing validated the system’s functionality and performance, securing approval from the relevant authorities and demonstrating compliance with aviation standards.

“Project BLUEPRINT was developed to show how ground-based surveillance networks and an open-architecture approach to UTM can enable BVLOS operations at scale,” said James Dunthorne, Strategic Lead for Project BLUEPRINT. “Our team has developed the necessary systems, integrated them, tested them, safety assessed them, and operated them in a live environment, allowing us to pull off a demonstration at this event that will hopefully give industry, government and regulators a clear vision for how the future of drone integration will come together. We’d like to thank everyone who has put in an extraordinary amount of effort to make this event so successful,”

The presentation on July 25 included live flight demonstrations in four parts covering flight plan and amendments with ‘intruder entering a transponder mandatory zone (TMZ) without permission’. Scenarios included a range of aircraft including VTOL BVLOS UAS (real take off from Cranfield Airport), Fixed Wing BVLOS UAS (simulated) and VTOL VLOS UAS (simulated)

Previous BVLOS projects have primarily operated in temporary danger areas (TDA’s) which are temporary and isolated from other airspace users, limiting scalability. These operations have focused on technology demonstrations and trials without establishing a sustainable business model.

With the blueprint for BVLOS in large part developed, the project team is now focused on the next phase: Detect and Avoid (DAA) testing.

The DAA testing phase is critical for BVLOS operations, encompassing validation of sensor coverage using ADS-B equipped unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), simulation scenarios for pilot decision-making, rigorous command performance validation, feedback loop simulations, and comprehensive system integrity testing. This phase aims to ensure the overall system’s reliability and calculate risk ratios accurately.

Next steps include working with Cranfield Airport and CAA to obtain TRA approval (by September 2024) and completion of assurance work in line with CAA’s DAA policy concept. Engaging with the general aviation industry, ARPAS-UK and CAA, the project aligns BVLOS operations with existing aviation practices. Inevitably, policymakers and regulators need to key into trials such as BLUEPRINT, and this will include alignment with the CAA’s Airspace policy concept for BVLOS flying, (dubbed as a roadmap for the development and modernisation of UK airspace until 2040).

Graham Brown, Chair of ARPAS-UK summarised: “The path to fully integrated airspace is complex with many moving parts. This project is excellent progress towards that goal.”

According to Gary Cutts, Challenge Director – Future Flight, Innovate UK UKRI: “Project BLUEPRINT has been an excellent example of the system-wide, integrated and tech-led activities the Future Flight Challenge was seeking to solve as the biggest issue in air mobility, safe airspace management at volume. It is fabulous to see such an ambitious project from so many organisations complete a demonstration of the art of the possible paving the way for commercial scale-up.”

Project milestones and partners

The key milestones to the project are:

  •       MVPs Built and Integrated: The project team successfully developed and seamlessly integrated minimum viable products (MVPs), forming the bedrock of the BVLOS solution.
  •      Sensor Network Installation and Modelling: A comprehensive sensor network was meticulously deployed and modelled, enhancing situational awareness and safety.
  •      Initial Testing Completed: Rigorous testing validated system functionality and performance.
  •      OSC (Operating Safety Case) Approval: The project secured approval from the relevant authorities, ensuring compliance with regulations.
  •     TRA (Temporary Reserved Airspace) Application in Process: The team is part way through the process with the CAA to enable ADS-B mandated airspace to conduct routine operations.

Project BLUEPRINT relies on the collective efforts of the following organisations:


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