NTSB Forum Examines Unmanned Aircraft Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board is hosting an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Forum today and tomorrow at its offices in Washington, D.C., that will explore the future of unmanned aircraft and how they fit into the national aerospace system. UAVs aren't just for military uses, and their capabilities are growing: The Pentagon's R&D agency, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), on April 21 chose three companies for the first phase of a program to develop an unmanned air system capable of flying a five-year uninterrupted mission on station.

NTSB's forum is free and open to the public, but limited eating is available. It will also be webcast live on www.ntsb.gov. Invited representatives from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, General Atomics, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, AAI Corporation, NASA, the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, Arizona State University, the FAA Air Traffic Management Office, the U.S. Air Force Safety Center, the Airline Pilots Association, DoD's Policy Board on Federal Aviation, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and other organizations will discuss numerous topics, including human factors, regulatory issues, airworthiness, and maintenance.

DARPA's initiative is named the Vulture program. The three selected contractors are Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. Vulture's goal is a system that can carry a 1,000-pound payload drawing five kilowatts of power that can stay airborne uninterrupted for at least five years while remaining in the required mission airspace 99 percent of the time. The first phase a yearlong analytical effort, DARPA said.

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