UAS Pathfinder Updates

By UAS Magazine Staff | November 16, 2015

1. Pathfinder Add-On

Following an increase in reports of UAVs operating in close proximity to runways and airports, the FAA has added a new participant to its Pathfinder efforts. Through CACI, an aerospace technology developer, the FAA will allow the testing of a system to detect, identify and track UAVs flying in restricted airspace. The CACI system detects various sensor systems. The FAA will deploy the system at select airports and report findings in the future.


2. LATAS In Flight

In coordination with Verizon, Harris and DigitalGlobe Inc., PrecisionHawk has completed initial testing on its low-altitude traffic and airspace safety (LATAS) system. Verizon provided its LTE network, while Harris supplied its ADS-B network. DigitalGlobal provided access to its big data system to record and analyze the findings from the a flight employing LATAS. The system connects airspace safety technologies such as detect and avoid, dynamic geofencing and aircraft tracking to provide “safety as a service” for the drone market, according to PrecisionHawk.

The company was granted the ability to perform LATAS testing through its inclusion into the FAA’s Pathfinder program. PrecisionHawk was given the ability to explore UAS flights outside the pilots direct vision. “We are leveraging satellite-derived information to create consistent information and analytics for safe drone flights,” said Shay Har-Noy, senior director of geospatial big data at DigitalGlobe. “This is significant collaboration that represents a huge step forward for the FAA and the safety and well-being of the American public.”


3. Historic BVLOS Flight

The first commercial beyond-visual-line-of-sight operation in the continuous 48 states happened in New Mexico, thanks to the FAA’s Pathfinder program. In October, Insitu flew its fixed-wing ScanEagle along a section of railroad owned and operated by BNSF. The flights occurred during a week-long period across a railway section spanning 132 miles. All flights were performed with the approval of the FAA through its Pathfinder project.

Insitu coordinated the flights with the U.S. Air Force and other nearby airports. Visual observers were stationed at three airports. There were no ground observers or chase aircraft used to monitor the flight of the ScanEagle. The first flight test spanned 64 miles and provided the operators and BNSF participants with real-time video.

Charlton Evans, Insitu’s program manager for commercial and civil operation, said BNSF can use its UAV to monitor warped track, washouts, major erosions or bridge outages. “This is a supplemental method of seeing things in a more real-time way,” Evan said. “While all those other sensor methods are able to give them a whole ton of data, there’s really nothing like seeing the track just before the train gets there to know that the track is, in fact, there and healthy and ready for the next train.”

During testing, BNSF representatives were watching the operations. According to Evans, the BNSF team was discussing more use cases for the system even as it was in flight.

BNSF currently monitors tracks with ground- or vehicle-mounted sensors along with handheld sensors. Following the flights, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum asked Insitu to donate the ScanEagle to the museum. “It’s neat to make a little history now and again,” he said. “I don’t know how many aviation firsts there are left to make, but this is definitely a couple of them that we are proud of.”


4. The Right UAV For The Job

To complete its research on UAV flights above crowds for the purpose of newsgathering, CNN has selected a New Zealand-based unmanned aircraft system. The Delta X8, a multirotor designed by Altus Unmanned Aerial Solutions, will be used by the CNN team. The Altus team has already been working with U.S.-based Blue Chip Unmanned Aerial Solutions. Blue Chip has a section 333 exemption to operate the Altus X8 for aerial filming and photography. The Kansas-based entity has also been testing the X8 at the National Institute of Aviation Research.

Blue Chip will train the CNN team to fly and operate the chosen UAV. The platform features an 8-rotor brushless motor system paired with a dual autopilot and emergency recovery parachute. The New Zealand firm said there is note a safer multirotor platform on the market today.

Through its Pathfinder research, CNN will also use other platforms and work with other entities, including Georgia Tech University and the NYFD.