In response to increased scrutiny of armed UAV operations by human rights groups, British legislators and the United Nations, the British Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) has stepped up efforts to reassure the public. Late last year, it allowed media (including AIN) access to the Royal Air Force Reaper ground control station (GCS) at RAF Waddington for the first time. New documents describing UK operational procedures, including targeting, have been released. The UK is one of only three countries to have fired weapons from UAVs in combat, the others being Israel and the U.S.
Unmanned aerial vehicle
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is showcasing its T129 ATK attack helicopter and its Anka Male UAV here at Farnborough International Airshow for the first time. The burgeoning aerospace giant needs to find export customers soon if TAI is to go some way toward self-sufficiency. It is no surprise then that marketing efforts of the T129 ATAK (tactical reconnaissance and attack helicopter) have been stepped up this year, with the company also displaying it at the Bahrain International Airshow in January and ILA Berlin in May.
Integrating remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) into civilian airspace in Europe is not going to be easy. Official programs are many, work is extensive, detailed and ongoing, but anyone expecting an early resolution is going to be disappointed. This was the picture gleaned from a series of presentations at last month’s RPAS Today: Opportunities and Challenges conference, run by the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
The European agency tasked with keeping watch over the EU’s external borders, Frontex, is enthusiastic about adopting remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) to help them in that job. But significant challenges–some technical but the majority legal–mean that unmanned aircraft are unlikely to be deployed to help defend EU borders in the near future.
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.
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.