Robots in the Sky

by nph | June 18th, 2010

Robots in the SkyUnmanned aircraft are the latest in aviation technology and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is at the forefront of this innovation. The FAA has signed a two-year development agreement with Insitu—an independent subsidiary of Boeing and the New Jersey Air National Guard.

This research agreement is part of the FAA’s NextGen flight management system, which is an evolving set of goals directed at bringing America’s aging flight infrastructure into the 21st century, according to an article on Popsci.com. Research will enable the FAA to further its understanding of aircraft design, construction, and features, so that unmanned aircraft can be brought safely into the national airspace.

Challenges

There are a number of issues associated with integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace, including technical, regulatory, workload, and coordination challenges, as well as the capability for these aircraft to meet the safety requirements of the national airspace system.

Further, the operation of unmanned aircraft is significantly different from traditional piloted aircraft. These aircraft, especially smaller models, typically fly in altitudes less than 18,000 feet, which means they share airspace with other objects such as gliders, and developing detection systems for an unmanned aircraft with the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)—a widely used detection system for manned aircraft—also poses a challenge.

Additional Research

The FAA’s research agreement with Insitu is not the first of its kind. NetworkWorld.com said that in 2009, the FAA signed a similar agreement with GE Aviation, focusing on a way to safely mix the growing numbers of unmanned aircraft with commercial aviation. Using computer simulation technology, the FAA and GE hope to develop an Unmanned Aircraft System with a FAA-certified, trajectory-based flight management system.

Though unmanned aircraft may seem like just robots in the sky, advances in aviation technology can prove they serve both a beneficial and practical purpose. According to the FAA, unmanned aircraft such as the ScanEagle drone, can fly more than 24 hours at a time and has been used in many civil applications, including search and rescue operations, evacuation efforts conducted in hazardous weather, and fire and flood monitoring.

Resources:

“FAA adds brainpower to mix unmanned aircraft with commercial aviation,” NetworkWorld.com. June
2010. Accessed on 06/15/2010.

“Federal Aviation Administration Exploring Possibilities of Unmanned Commercial Flight.” Popsci.com.
June 2010. Accessed on 06/15/2010.