ConocoPhillips’ use of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for commercial purposes in remote Arctic airspace—an historic first—has not been perfect. The energy company confirmed that an Insitu ScanEagle it is using for airborne surveillance of the Chukchi Sea west of Alaska crashed on a second test flight. The aircraft’s first flight from the research vessel Westward Wind took place on September 12.
Unmanned aerial vehicle
Slowly but surely, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are entering the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) despite a regulatory regime that was previously considered prohibitive to all but government agencies and research institutions. Unmanned aircraft have flown for the first time commercially in remote Arctic airspace, and companies are considering or have already begun the process of obtaining FAA airworthiness certification of their UAS designs.
UAV start-up Titan Aerospace of Moriarty, N.M., yesterday named former Eclipse Aviation CEO Vern Raburn as its chairman and CEO. Originally a Microsoft executive, Raburn founded Eclipse, manufacturer of the Eclipse 500 very light jet, in 1998. He stepped down from the company in 2008 before it entered bankruptcy, and it later re-emerged from bankruptcy as Eclipse Aerospace.
An MQ-1 Predator UAV supported firefighters in their efforts to control the huge California Rim Fire in August-September, according to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI). The company noted that the UAV’s more-than-24-hour endurance offered a “value-added capability” over helicopters, which ground commanders had relied on previously but are required to refuel every two hours.
Even as French aircrews began training in the U.S. on the Reaper UAS, EADS Cassidian announced that it had received a one-year extension to its support contract for the Harfang UAS that the French air force intends to replace with the American drone. Cassidian also noted that the similar Heron UAS operated by the German air force and supported by the company has logged 15,000 hours over Afghanistan. The Germans are also considering a Reaper buy as a replacement for the Israeli-origin UAVs.
India’s own medium-altitude long-endurance (Male) UAS has experienced another delay, with first flight now expected toward the end of next year. A senior official from the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) told AIN that the Rustom-2 project has suffered from lack of access to technology for sensors and engines. “Requirements for ISR are huge in India, given threats from the border. However, Hale, micro and nano UAVs require powerful algorithms. That is where we require help,” added V.S.
The first autonomous takeoff and landing of the Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (Sara)–an S-76 fitted with fly-by-wire controls, sensors and software for unmanned operations–is expected to take place within days, according to program manager Igor Cherepinsky. So far, he told AIN, Sara’s autonomous flights were following a trajectory to and from a hover.
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.
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.