The Heron 1 UAVs that have been providing imagery for the German air force (GAF) over Afghanistan have now clocked more than 18,500 hours in four years. The lease-operate-maintain contract has already been extended twice, and will likely be extended for a further six months, as the German ponders its long-term UAS policy.
Unmanned aerial vehicle
Just as in the U.S. there is considerable interest in Europe in developing a solution to the sense-and-avoid problem for unmanned aircraft. A number of different programs are running concurrently under different national, international and industrial consortia, and while several have clocked up significant hours of flight test in surrogate or testbed aircraft, none have as yet flown on board an unmanned platform.
By the end of this year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration expects to release a long-delayed draft rule that will begin to establish the conditions under which individuals and companies can fly small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for commercial purposes. But concerns over potential privacy infringements could postpone the release of a final “small UAS” regulation until well into 2016. Routine flights by larger UAS will follow when standards become available to properly equip them for collision avoidance and command and control from the ground.
U.S. government and industry testers plan to begin data-gathering flights later this year using a system that will address perhaps the biggest technological hurdle to widespread use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)–the ability of a remotely piloted vehicle to “detect and avoid” (DAA) other aircraft. At the same time, a special committee convened by standards organization RTCA is working toward delivering DAA equipment standards by July 2016.
The latest generation of the “Gorgon Stare” wide-area surveillance system has reached initial operational capability (IOC) in Afghanistan, lead contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) announced on July 1. Fitted to a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, the system is providing the U.S. Air Force’s only operational capability for day/night persistent wide-area motion imagery, the company said.
I’ve written periodically about FAA enforcement and what I consider to be abuses of the process, along with sanctions that are significantly disproportionate to the safety impact of the offenses charged.
In a bid to dispel apparent confusion over the limits of its regulatory authority over unmanned aerial systems, the FAA on June 23 reminded users that it does possess the authority to regulate radio-controlled model airplanes. Publishing its interpretation of the statutory special rules for model aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the agency said, “The guidance comes after recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people.
Despite recently acquiring the GA-ASI Reaper UAS from the U.S., the French air force has extended the service of its predecessor UAS, the Harfang, until at least the end of 2017. The Harfang UAS consists of IAI Heron 1 UAVs that are equipped with a communications and control system designed by Airbus Defence & Space (previously EADS Cassidian) in France. The French defense procurement agency, DGA, has recently signed contracts with main contractor Airbus D&S, and with IAI, for the upgrade and continued maintenance of the Harfang system.
Flight-test operations have begun at the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site, which last week became the fourth operational site of six authorized in the U.S. by the FAA. The agency granted the university a two-year certificate of authorization (COA) to fly the 85-pound American Aerospace Advisors’ Recon System-16, based on the Arcturus T-16XL fixed-wing aircraft.
Boeing has added to its portfolio of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft a “multi-int” platform based on the Beechcraft King Air 350ER. The company’s Reconfigurable Airborne Multi-Intelligence System (Ramis) was originally developed as a demonstrator for the U.S. Army and is now being offered to customers.