General Atomics Readies for 'Detect and Avoid' Demo

 - September 4, 2014, 11:56 AM
The DAA system will be demonstrated in November on the NASA Ikhana, a Predator B unmanned aircraft (Photo: NASA)

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) planned to conduct functional flight tests of an unmanned aircraft detect-and-avoid (DAA) system early this month in advance of trials on the NASA Ikhana Predator B slated to begin in November. Perfecting the ability of unmanned aircraft to stay clear of other aircraft and avoid collisions is a prerequisite to enabling their use in unrestricted airspace.

Brandon Suarez, GA-ASI project engineer, said the company would conduct about two days of software regression and hardware functional testing of the DAA system on its own Predator B at the General Atomics Gray Butte flight operations facility in Palmdale, Calif. It will then transfer the system to the Ikhana for a series of collision avoidance flight-tests at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, part of nearby Edwards Air Force Base. The NASA trial, expected to last five weeks, includes participation by the Federal Aviation Administration and will evaluate the performance of the system when flown against “intruder” aircraft.

GA-ASI conducted the first flight of a Predator B fitted with the DAA system from its Gray Butte facility last November. The system combines General Atomics’ “due regard” electronically scanned radar, a Honeywell traffic alert collision avoidance system (Tcas) processor and a BAE Systems Identification Friend or Foe transponder that work in unison to detect and track nearby aircraft. GA-ASI started the radar development in 2011 and plans to make available preproduction engineering development models to customers by early next year. But the use of the full DAA suite to fly an unmanned aircraft in unrestricted airspace awaits release of standards by an RTCA special committee—expected in 2016—to build and certify a system the FAA will approve.

In a separate announcement on August 28, GA-ASI said its Lynx multi-mode radar with synthetic aperture radar and maritime wide-area search modes demonstrated the ability to support naval operations in a littoral environment during the U.S. Navy’s Spearhead IIA exercise. The radar, integrated on a King Air 350 twin turboprop serving as a surrogate for the MQ-9 Reaper, detected mine-like objects and very small vessels, including fast boats, sailboats and fishing boats. The Navy conducted the exercise off the coast of Key West, Fla., in June.