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 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.
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.
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:
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.
Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufacturer Insitu is developing a growth variant of its Integrator, the basis of the U.S. Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack tactical UAS. The new UAS is aimed at the military market but Insitu offered few other details.
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.
The FAA reauthorization legislation that President Obama signed into law in February 2012 gives the FAA the authority to regulate a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft if it is flown in an unsafe manner, the FAA states in a policy notice published in the Federal Register on June 23.