The Immeasurable Potential of Unmanned Systems
20 Feb, 2014
By Rachel Duran
The UAS industry is ready to explode; test sites a critical starting point.
The year 2014 is going to be the biggest yet for the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry, says James Grimsley, president of Design Intelligence Inc. LLC, with locations in Norman and Stillwater, Okla.
“Every generation or so we have something big happen in aerospace that stirs things up and changes the industry,” Grimsley says. “And that is what is going on with unmanned systems. This generational change will have a profound impact on the aviation and aerospace industry.”
He adds the recent announcement by the FAA of test sites is a major milestone that will move the industry forward. “We are elated and excited that the FAA has made this announcement,” Grimsley says. “This means the FAA and the country are on track for developing this industry.”
In December 2013, after a 10-month site selection process, reviewing 25 proposals from 24 states, the FAA announced six unmanned aircraft systems research and test sites. The sites will gather operational data in order to safely integrate the systems into the national airspace.
Says Michael Toscano, president and CEO, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) : “This is the starting process and a very positive step forward which will articulate what will be required to determine how safe is safe, and the risk acceptance to utilize this technology.”
Toscano says unmanned systems have the capability to both help mankind and create an economically positive effect, both in jobs and dollars. “Men and women know how to do their jobs better than anyone else, and these systems allow them to do things in a more efficient and effective manner, saving money, time and lives,” Toscano says.
“Congress wisely mandated that the FAA move to opening the national airspace to UAS,” says Manning McPhillips, chief administrative officer, Mississippi Development Authority. “The test sites will provide important data to start making those decisions. Mississippi wants to contribute to the development of the industry whether we have a test site or not.” (See sidebar below to see a list of the sites selected.)
McPhillips says this year the FAA will request proposals to establish a UAS Center of Excellence, which will be a university-driven center, with a focus on regulations and policies, whereas the test sites will focus on data from the operations side of things. “Mississippi State is leading a consortium of universities from around the country and will bid on that opportunity when it comes out from the FAA,” McPhillips says.
“The low hanging fruit, if you will, is in precision ag. We deem about 80 percent of the applications in the near term will be in precision agriculture. For good reasons in that the two biggest concerns people have right now are safety, which is the most critical, and the second is privacy. Farming and precision agriculture alleviates both of those. There is minimal exposure to human beings and very minimal aspects from a privacy standpoint.” – Michael Toscano, AUVSI
Back in Oklahoma, even though the state wasn’t selected for a test site, Grimsley is encouraged by the sites as the purpose is to ensure that “as we conduct the integration of UAS into the national airspace, we do it safely and efficiently,” he says.
“Unmanned systems are coming — the pressure for them is huge,” says Dr. Stephen McKeever, secretary, Science and Technology for the state of Oklahoma. “Commerce and industry want them. The question is how to do so safely. Therefore, a lot of R&D is required. Technology is on the verge of being developed but it is not there yet — it needs time, effort and money. Also, in parallel with the technology, policies, rules and regulations need to be developed. This is essential for the industry to develop safely and to flourish.”
Grimsley’s company is one of the companies eager to see the industry ascend. His company develops the Eturnas, a solar augmented UAS, which will fly sun up to sun down. The systems are ideal for uses such as delivering medicine, blood samples, antivenins and so forth in remote areas of the world. The Eturnas can also accomplish activities a human would not want to necessarily do such as monitoring crop health, conducting herd management, or monitoring the conditions of utility easements and pipelines, looking for damage or leaks.
Grimsley is also the president of the Unmanned Systems Alliance of Oklahoma, which is a chapter of the AUVSI. The state will benefit from the promise of the use of systems in the commercial sector, where precision agriculture is expected to emerge as a leading category.
“Agriculture is big in Oklahoma, as well as oil and gas activities,” Grimsley says. “We are already supporting these industries that are going to benefit most directly and probably most profoundly for UAS. It is a good intersection of our strongest industries in the state.”
“The low hanging fruit, if you will, is in precision ag,” Toscano says. “We deem about 80 percent of the applications in the near term will be in precision agriculture. For good reasons in that the two biggest concerns people have right now are safety, which is the most critical, and the second is privacy. Farming and precision agriculture alleviates both of those. There is minimal exposure to human beings and very minimal aspects from a privacy standpoint.”
Test Sites for Everyone
Toscano says integrating UAS technology into the national airspace, in a safe way, will allow the industry to better understand what the next version should look like.
He adds: “I believe every state should have one [test site].” Applicants to the FAA effort featured a wide range of assets, resources, manufacturing capabilities, and long-standing industry clusters such as aerospace and defense.
In Ohio, the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport was a co-applicant for an FAA test site along with the state, the state of Indiana, the Wilmington Air Park in Wilmington, Ohio, and the National Center for Medical Readiness at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Franzen says the Springfield airport has been awarded Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to support Sinclair Community College’s training efforts. A COA with the Ohio Army National Guard to fly the Raven UAS has been approved. Another COA ready for submission is with the Air Force Research Labs for five of their UAS platforms.
The city of Springfield is located 15 minutes from Wright-Patterson. The Springfield-Beckley airport features a 9,000-foot main runway, a 5,000-foot crosswind runway, and is the former site for F-16 training. Flying activities ceased in 2011. The Air Force had installed a lot of infrastructure to support the mission, including arm/dearm pads, says Tom Franzen, economic development director/assistant city manager, city of Springfield. “There are also launch and recovery sites.”
City officials tap into the synergies found at the Air Force Research Labs at Wright-Patterson, which spearheads the branch’s R&D in UAS technology.
In regard to the area’s higher education assets, the University of Dayton and Wright State University are both conducting research in unmanned systems. Sinclair Community College in Dayton offers flight training programs for UAS, and airworthiness activities. Clark State Community College in Springfield focuses on ag-related unmanned systems.
Franzen says the Springfield airport has been awarded Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to support Sinclair Community College’s training efforts. A COA with the Ohio Army National Guard to fly the Raven UAV has been approved. Another COA ready for submission is with the Air Force Research Labs for five of their UAS platforms.
The Springfield region is also well suited to support manufacturing activities thanks to its long history in the aerospace and automotive industries. There are up to 30 suppliers within a 20 minute to 30-minute radius. What’s more, SelectTech Geospatial has located a rapid manufacturing operation at the Springfield airport. The 15,000-square-foot hangar and office space features 40 people engaged in various activities in support of the Air Force Research Labs and defense-related contracts. “A good portion has been focused on UAS and the sensors and communication elements,” Franzen says.
In regard to R&D prototyping and technical aspects, companies can access the NextEdge Applied Research and Technology Park in Springfield, which is home to Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex; within the building is 20,000 square feet of test and incubation space.
Moving south to Mississippi, economic development officials are discussing the development of additional facilities to support UAS initiatives locating to Camp Shelby, a 135,000-acre site south of Hattiesburg. “Right now they have everything they need including runways and support services on the ground,” McPhillips says.
Testing of unmanned systems in both military and commercial applications is taking place at Camp Shelby, which has been integrating unmanned and manned flights for 10 years. The site is home to a major National Guard facility. “The entire area is restricted air space which is very appealing and perfect for flight testing,” McPhillips says. “Their leadership is open to working with industry. It is also much more cost effective to test there than it is at other test locations around the country.”
McPhillips says Mississippi has focused on growing its unmanned aircraft systems cluster for years. “We play a large role in the industry and will continue to grow this role, such as with our existing UAS manufacturers Aurora Flight Sciences and Stark Aerospace in Columbus.” In Moss Point, another firm, Northrop Grumman, puts together the fuselage for the Black Hawk helicopter, as well as works on an unmanned system called the Fire Scout.
McPhillips points out that Camp Shelby has also entered an MOU with Open Source, a nonprofit that works with the DoD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop open source technology for UAS that will benefit the public sector in emergency response efforts and national security.
Mississippi also has opportunities for testing the performance of UAS in maritime environments, with an Air National Guard unit located in Gulfport, which is on the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
As is the case with other states, precision agriculture activities are surging in Mississippi’s UAS cluster. Mississippi State University has COAs to support the testing of precision ag and environmental monitoring. The Raspet Flight Research Lab at the university conducts research on composites and polymers, which is also a benefit to the UAS industry.
The role of universities and research institutions is an important consideration when siting UAS firms and initiatives. The DHS was able to hit the ground running in Elgin, Okla., in its efforts to test small UAS sensor platforms in regard to first responders. The Oklahoma Training Center for Unmanned Systems (OCT-US) is the only DHS site that performs these activities.
“We have the organizations, and the experienced personnel to run the flight operations,” McKeever says. “We have the locations where they could set up the various scenarios. The entire site is in easy reach of the airport [Oklahoma City]; people could fly in and set up systems without difficulties.”
The restricted airspace at OCT-US is enabled through an agreement with the Department of the Army at Fort Sill, based in Lawton. Fort Sill is the home to the Fires Center of Excellence, and under that mission are responsible for the Army’s counter efforts to UAVs. “This has been a large advantage; there are no other states that have such access to that kind of space within their states,” McKeever says. “It has been a strong part of our ability to grow the UAS industry.”
As industry and states partner to grow the unmanned aerial systems industry, they will pioneer and shape the direction of this young industry. “This is a very exciting time with a lot of unknowns, and as we start doing this we will become smarter,” Toscano says. “It is critical for us to utilize the technology and do it in a safe way to better understand what the next version needs to be.”
For complete details about the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Illustration by Victor Habbick at Free Digital Photos.net
Where are the Sites and What Will They Test?
Compiled by Rachel Duran
The FAA recently designated six locations for the testing and research of unmanned aircraft systems and how to incorporate them into the national airspace.
Listed below is a brief description of the locations and the research they will conduct:
*University of Alaska-They will partner with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. Alaska allows for testing in seven climatic zones and diverse geographies. Research will focus on developing standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation.
*State of Nevada-This geographic and climatically diverse state will concentrate on standards and operations, and operator standards and certification requirements. Research will look at air traffic control procedures, introducing the systems into the civil environment, as well as integrating them into the FAA’s NextGen program.
* New York’s Griffiss International Airport-They will conduct test and evaluation, and the verification and validation process under FAA safety oversight. Research will focus on sense and avoid capabilities; with a focus on the complexities of adding the systems into the congested U.S. Northeast airspace.
*North Dakota Department of Commerce-The state will develop airworthiness essential data, and validate high reliability link technology. They will also conduct human factors research.
*Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi-They will develop system safety requirements for vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing.
*Virginia Tech-They will conduct failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risk areas. They will partner with test site ranges in New Jersey as well.
For complete details, visit www.faa.gov.