With the first commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) now accomplished, at least two other potential certification efforts are under way for unmanned aircraft that would fly at opposite extremes of the airspace if the Federal Aviation Administration approves them.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
News and issues relating to civil and military unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) of all kinds and sizes, including those used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), combat (unmanned combat air vehicles, or UCAVs), law enforcement, research and other applications. Of particular focus is the FAA's planned integration of UAS into the U.S. national airspace system.
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force completed the first flight of an unmanned QF-16 aerial target from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on September 19. Flown by two Air Force test pilots in a ground station, the modified Lockheed Martin F-16 reached an altitude of 40,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.47.
Two UK airports have joined to create a “National Aeronautical Center” (NAC) to develop, test and demonstrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). West Wales Airport at Aberporth and Newquay Cornwall Airport in southwest England will jointly offer their facilities and runways, along with access to offshore testing areas, to UAS developers.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expects that energy company ConocoPhillips will make the first commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft today. Under a restricted category type certification the FAA awarded in July, ConocoPhillips will launch an Insitu ScanEagle from the research vessel Westward Wind in the Chukchi Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean west of Alaska.
The European Commission released a final report on the integration of civil remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) into European airspace in June. The report’s aim is to achieve initial RPAS airspace integration, beginning with visual line-of-sight operations, in 2016.
Developed by European aviation technical organizations under the collective name ofthe European RPAS Steering Group, the 200-page report covers a wide swath of issues, requirements and plans over its proposed RPAS integration “roadmap,” covering the period 2013 to 2028.
Two years from the September 2015 deadline the U.S. Congress established to introduce unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) into the nation’s airspace system, airline pilots are engaged in the process of developing standards and practices that UAS operators will follow.
The next steps toward wider introduction of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the U.S. airspace system were within line of sight as the industry gathered for its largest conference last month in Washington, D.C. Federal government officials said that a long-delayed proposed rulemaking for operations of small UAS weighing up to 55 pounds will be released by the end of the year. Also by year-end, the FAA will designate six UAS test ranges in a program sought by 24 states.
General Atomics has demonstrated electronic attack capability on an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft fitted with a Northrop Grumman jamming pod. A test flight took place during a U.S. Marine Corps weapons and tactics instructor (WTI) course in April, the results of which have only now been made public.
A Swiss-owned company that is developing a trio of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) for civil and military applications made its inaugural appearance at the recent Unmanned Systems conference in Washington, D.C. Unmanned Systems Group, with headquarters in Baar, Switzerland, displayed its Discoverer and Discoverer II fixed-wing air vehicles and a scale model of the planned Atro-X unmanned helicopter featuring tip-jet rotor propulsion.
The U.S. Navy says that the unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike system (UClass) could be operational as early as Fiscal Year 2018. On August 14, the Department of Defense announced the award of $15 million contracts to Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman for preliminary design reviews (PDR) of the UClass air vehicle.