The effort to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into to national airspace took another step forward last week, when the Federal Aviation Administration announced six sites for further testing of UAS.
The FAA says it is hoping to answer key research questions, including solutions for how to help unmanned aircraft sense other traffic and avoid collisions.
Testing sites to help FAA develop regulations for UAS
Data from the testing sites will help the FAA to develop regulations for UAS and operational procedures, including how to interface with the air traffic control system.
The test sites will be located at the University of Alaska, State of Nevada, New York's Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M – Corpus Christi and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).
The six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research goals of System Safety & Data Gathering, Aircraft Certification, Command & Control Link Issues, Control Station Layout & Certification, Ground & Airborne Sense & Avoid, and Environmental Impacts will be met.
The announcement of the testing sites on Dec. 30 came just months after the FAA signed a memorandum of agreement with Kansas State University Salina to test certification standards for small UAS, typically those weighing 55 pounds or less.
K-State Salina has been conducting those tests since Aug. 29, using its own unmanned aircraft systems.
A critical steppingstone to commercial flight operations of UAS
"Determining the airworthiness of small UAS is a critical steppingstone to commercial flight operations of UAS, and K-State is thrilled to be leading the way in certifying today's unmanned systems for tomorrow's commercial applications," Mark Blanks, unmanned aircraft systems program manager at K-State Salina, said after the signing of the memorandum.
K-State is on target to come the first small UAS to obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate for routine operations in the national airspace system.
Kurt Barnhart, professor and head of the department of aviation and executive director of the university's Applied Aviation Research Center at K-State Salina, said the certificate would likely be restricted, requiring the unmanned vehicles to follow strict protocols for operation.
Kansas stands to benefit greatly from the integration of unmanned systems into national airspace because agriculture is expected to be a primary user of the system. Several manufacturers of UAS are already in business in Kansas and farmers can buy and operate the vehicles on their own property.