FAA Begins Choosing UAV Test Ranges

Six ranges or sites will be chosen, as Congress ordered. But the legislative mandate contained no funding to set up, manage, or oversee them.

The Federal Aviation Administration asked for comments from the unmanned aircraft community to help it select six test sites or ranges for evaluating how such aircraft can be safely, efficiently integrated into the National Airspace System. FAA has a tight timeline for this thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act signed last December, complicated by the fact the congressional mandate contained no funding to set up, manage, or oversee the sites.

FAA, which is coordinating with NASA and DoD on this project, asked for comments within 60 days (www.regulations.gov, docket FAA-2012-0252). It says the six geographically diverse sites should offer the opportunity to test:

  • Conventional takeoff and landing
  • High-speed flight
  • Maritime launch, maneuver, and recovery capability
  • Operations at extremely high altitudes
  • Evaluation of dissimilar aircraft in multiple altitude structures

And FAA may utilize the requirements in 14 CFR 91.305: "No person may flight test an aircraft except over open water, or sparsely populated areas, having light air traffic."

FAA's notice says the agency will hold national webinars to provide more information and obtain feedback about the six test ranges/sites.

Unmanned aircraft are used in surveillance, collecting air samples to determine pollution levels, and in rescue and recovery missions in crisis situations, according to FAA, which said in the notice that they currently range from wingspans of 6 inches to more than 240 feet and can weigh anywhere from 4 ounces to more than 32,000 pounds. Their numbers and uses are growing fast: About 50 universities, companies, and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 designs, and regulatory standards must be developed to enable the technology and unmanned aircraft operations to comply with federal aviation regulations, according to FAA.

The goal is routine operation of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System, the notice states.

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