UAS Center of Excellence director says FAA regulations a priority

By Patrick C. Miller | May 14, 2015

Helping the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implement its proposed rules for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as quickly as possible is a priority for the agency’s newly created National Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

The FAA last week announced the selection of Mississippi State University to lead a team of universities engaged in UAS research with their industry partners. The agency said the COE will focus on research, education and training in areas critical to safe and successful integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace.

“Our goal is to take all this fantastic research and turn it into the rules that the FAA can implement now and get this $80 to $100 billion industry going,” said Maj. Gen. James Poss (retired) of Mississippi State University, who leads the COE team. “We’re confident that with the FAA’s help, we can do that.”

Poss also serves as the executive director of ASSURE (Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence) and works from MSU’s Stennis Space Center Campus. ASSURE’s membership includes 20 research universities and industry and government partners.

“Right now, ASSURE has over 100 corporate and government partners on its team,” Poss said. “We’ll be working with them to set up research teams using their resources to go after those problems that they need to have turned from research into rules that will get them flying for their particular segments of the UAS market.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, "This world-class, public-private partnership will help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge technology. We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future."

Twelve other universities were also selected as team members, which include: Drexel University; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Kansas State University; Kansas University; Montana State University; New Mexico State University; North Carolina State University; Oregon State University; University of Alabama, Huntsville; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; University of North Dakota; and Wichita State University.

According to Poss, a cooperative agreement is currently being negotiated with the FAA that will make it easier for the universities involved in the COE to use nearly any source of federal research money. He said they will receive the funding faster, which will enable them to quickly begin working on tasks.

Poss said the COE will serve as a hub for the six FAA-designated UAS test sites, UAS research universities and other government research agencies, such as NASA.

“We’ll all be working together,” he said. “The test sites have a very synergistic relationship with us. Hopefully we’ll finally get management’s attention and the funding we need to research those problems to get UAS flying safely and effectively in our national airspace.”

Another objective for the COE is beyond-line-of-sight operations for UAS, Poss said.

“There are a lot of companies that need to fly those air vehicles beyond visual line of sight and even beyond radio line of sight,” he noted. “There’s a number of legitimate uses for that. Our industry partners tell us that it’s one of the top integration problems that they want to solve.”

For example, Poss said Amazon Prime Air, which belongs to ASSURE, wants solutions that will enable it to use UAS to deliver packages under five pounds in less than 30 minutes within a 10-mile radius of a distribution center. The retail giant plans to fly in populated areas using multiple pilots to control multiple drones.

“Those are all issues that may not be important to the whole industry, but they’re pretty important to the package delivery folks,” Poss said. “I’m very certain that those type of corporate partners are going to want to commit resources to solving those problems.”

Poss was the senior career intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired as the assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) at the Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C.

 

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