The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Northrop Grumman, and Aviation & Communication & Surveillance Systems (ACSS) recently announced a series of successful drone flights testing sense-and-avoid systems. One of the key issues with flying a drone beyond-visual-line-of-sight is that the sense-and-avoid technology is slow to come to market. While it is certainly out there and being used by big companies in the commercial UAS business, before the FAA can issue a waiver under its Part 107 regulations, it needs to know that this technology, when built into the drone, really works. After all, the FAA’s first priority is safety in the national airspace.

These test flights were conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. In addition to Northrop Grumman, who led the tests, FAA staff from federally funded research and development centers, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), also participated. It was these groups of research and developers that created the algorithms and software for the sense-and-avoid system. The software can detect conflicts with intruder aircraft and issue resolution advisories and coordinate maneuvers with other collision-avoidance systems. ACSS integrated and tested the software on the Northrop Grumman drone called the Firebird Demonstrator.

ACSS unmanned aircraft system (UAS) program manager, Greg Boerwinkle, said, “The flight tests collected data necessary to validate simulation models and help inform the continued development [of the software.” “This is a critical capability to advance the economic viability and safety aspects of large UAS operations. The capabilities under development for large UAS to detect and avoid collisions will be substantially better than the ability of a pilot to see with the human eye and avoid collisions.”