Consumer electronics manufacturers, former toy and hobby suppliers, research university spinoffs and major aerospace companies are among the entities vying for a share of the simmering commercial market for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) generally weighing less than 20 pounds. They are advancing numerous fixed- and rotary-wing designs, some of which were displayed at the Unmanned Systems 2014 conference in May and others elsewhere. Following is a description of some, although by no means all, of the recent showings:
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.
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.
The FAA last week issued oil company BP and unmanned aircraft manufacturer AeroVironment its first official approval for commercial operations over land in the U.S. using unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Flights using AeroVironment’s 13.5-pound Puma AE began immediately on June 8, performing aerial surveillance of BP’s pipelines and other facilities in support of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska.
Last summer, the FAA issued restricted-category type certificates to the Puma for limited aerial surveillance but only over Arctic waters.
Nevada’s unmanned aircraft systems test site is ready to conduct “vital research” into integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation’s civil airspace system, the FAA announced yesterday. The FAA granted Nevada a two-year Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to use an Insitu ScanEagle UAS at Desert Rock Airport in Mercury. With the approval, Nevada is the third of six UAS test sites to become operational.
The FAA issued a certificate of authorization (COA) to AeroVironment allowing the company to fly its Puma AE unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for energy company BP in Alaska, the first time the agency has approved a commercial UAS operation over land.
The FAA announced on June 2 that seven aerial photo and video production companies are seeking regulatory exemptions that would allow the film and television industry to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the first time. If the requests, which are supported by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), are granted, there could be useful economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial UAS operations and how to balance them with safety concerns.
The U.S. Marine Corps has deployed the new RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to Afghanistan through an early operational capability. The 135-pound-mtow aircraft is undergoing initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), a phase the service expects to complete this year.
Raphael Pirker cast a long shadow over the Unmanned Systems 2014 conference. Pirker’s challenge of an FAA fine for allegedly flying his Ritewing Zephyr recklessly at the University of Virginia came up repeatedly during the annual conference the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) stages, this year in Orlando.
Airbus Defence & Space (D&S), Alenia and Dassault Aviation have proposed a Project Definition (PD) study for a future European medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV to the governments of France, Germany and Italy. At the same time, however, Airbus D&S may be working with Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to develop what it describes as “bridging solution” for the German armed forces, using the Heron TP. Meanwhile, General Atomics–Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) is quietly confident that Germany may join the European “Reaper Club” that already comprises France, Italy and the UK as members.