Crash avoidance — up aboveOne of the problems with unmanned aircraft is that they don’t have a pilot on board to spot other aircraft and evade them. That’s one of the reasons federal aviation officials haven’t jumped all the way into allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to hit the wild blue yonder.
By: By Stephen J. Lee , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
One of the problems with unmanned aircraft is that they don’t have a pilot on board to spot other aircraft and evade them.
That’s one of the reasons federal aviation officials haven’t jumped all the way into allowing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to hit the wild blue yonder.
Which is why the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace Sciences department organized a demonstration Thursday of new ways to use “sense and avoid” software in UAVs to do what comes naturally to pilots in a cockpit.
To make it happen, demonstrators flew a manned aircraft rigged up to operate as if it were unmanned, while crossing paths with another aircraft in the fairly empty skies over the Red River Valley to show how a mock crash could be avoided.
Apparently all went well.
A team of UND and NASA researchers partnered with people from the MITRE Corp. to fly the two planes at each other.
UND flight instructors flew a standard Cessna 172, coordinating a flight path to intersect the path of a special Cirrus aircraft — built partly in Grand Forks — a few miles northwest of Cooperstown, N.D.
The Cirrus SR-22, owned by NASA, was equipped with the “sense and avoid” software in its cockpit and flew under the software’s direction just like a UAV, despite the presence of a “safety pilot,” on board.
The two planes flew a crossing pattern, albeit a few thousand feet apart in altitude, to mimic a possible collision.
On big screens in an aerospace building at the Grand Forks International Airport, a few dozen people from the school and related industries watched via radar how the technology sent out a warning to the other approaching aircraft.
Need for technology
Todd Stock, an engineer and researcher at MITRE, explained that such technology was becoming more and more important and he gave several recent examples of such systems saving aircraft from collisions.
MITRE is a nonprofit company that does aviation-related research for the federal government.
The demonstration of the technology Thursday was aimed at paving the way for more private and public use of unmanned systems within the overall civil airspace.
Most commercial uses of unmanned aircraft, even small ones useful for crop research, aren’t really legal yet under federal aviation rules, despite growing demand for them, said John Nordlie, a researcher at UND’s weather information center.