Universities armed with COAs for testing, teaching

By UAS Magazine Staff | January 12, 2015

Universities across the U.S.–– including the University of Maryland and the New Jersey Institute of Technology––are applying for and receiving certificates of authorization (COAs) from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to incorporate unmanned vehicles into their curriculum and into the national airspace.

With its COA, NJIT is preparing to conduct its first unmanned aircraft system (UAS) over the Atlantic Ocean to test the feasibility of safely integrating drones into the public airspace and to assess the research and operational capabilities of several data-collecting sensors aboard the aircraft.

The flight will include weather sensors to gather information on atmospheric conditions and devices with mapping, communications relay, and high-definition video capabilities, according to NJIT.

NJIT was the first public institution in the state to be granted permission to test UAS.

“This [COA] process was a learning experience for me and NJIT,” says Michael Chumer, director of the crisis communications center and of UAS applied research at NJIT. “As we proceeded through the application, we learned a lot about what data is required to safely integrate UAS technology within the national airspace.”

“NJIT’s mission is to enhance the country’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities. A primary goal is to develop drone-borne weather sensors that can predict where a major storm will make landfall as many as two days before existing technology now permits,” the university said.

The unmanned vehicle NJIT is using is the RS-16 integrated with the Applanix Direct Mapping Solution created by American Aerospace Advisors Inc. The RS-16 has roughly a 13-foot wingspan, with a max gross takeoff weight of 85 pounds. The UAS has a catapult launch and lands on Kevlar skids, according to Chumer.

“The testing, evaluation, and applied research that NJIT plans to accomplish will be integrated into the nation’s overall test site research plan,” says Chumer. “The UAS has the potential to strengthen our nation in a myriad of ways, and we at NJIT will call upon our considerable technical skill sot hasten this process along.”

Like NJIT, the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site received its first COA. The authorization resulted from the first use of UMD’s airworthiness process, the only known university airworthiness process that is modeled after the U.S. Navy’s rigorous standards for ensuring the safety and reliability of its manned and unmanned aircraft, according to the test site.

“This COA gives folks not only in Maryland, but in this region and even outside our region, a resource to go to in order to fly their systems,” says Matthew Scassero, director of the UMD UAS Test Site. “The whole reason we set up was to help the FAA but to also be a resource for the industry to get airborne.”

“This flight authorization is significant because it builds on the exisiting relationship between the University of Maryland and the Navy, and applies our mutually disciplined research approaches to the cutting edge of civil and commercial unmanned aviation,” said Darryll Pines, dean of the UMD A. James Clark School of Engineering.

The test site is using the Talon 240, which is designed and manufactured by UAV Solutions Inc. of Jessup, Maryland. The Talon 240 has a 20-foot wingspan and can fly for up to three and a half hours.

“We were looking for a large fixed-wing vehicle that could haul payloads that other people may bring to us to do research on and the Talon 240 had just about everything we needed,” said Scassero. “They’ve been extremely easy to work with and very cooperative with everything we’re trying to do.”