NASA Successfully Flies Unmanned Plane in California

"This is a huge milestone for our Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project team," said Ed Waggoner, NASA's Integrated Aviation Systems Program director. "We worked closely with our Federal Aviation Administration colleagues for several months to ensure we met all their requirements to make this initial flight happen."

NASA successfully flew its remotely piloted Ikhana aircraft in its first mission in the National Airspace System without a safety chase aircraft on June 12. The agency said the historic flight "moves the United States one step closer to normalizing unmanned aircraft operations in the airspace used by commercial and private pilots." The plane is based at the agency's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

Flying these large remotely piloted aircraft over the United States will help to open the way for all types of services, from monitoring and fighting forest fires to providing new emergency search and rescue operations, the agency reported, adding that technology in this aircraft could eventually be scaled down for use in other general aviation aircraft.

"This is a huge milestone for our Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project team," said Ed Waggoner, NASA's Integrated Aviation Systems Program director. "We worked closely with our Federal Aviation Administration colleagues for several months to ensure we met all their requirements to make this initial flight happen."

NASA reported the Ikhana flew in accordance with FAA Technical Standard Order 211 -- Detect and Avoid Systems -- and Technical Standard Order 212 -- Air-to-Air Radar for Traffic Surveillance. FAA granted NASA special permission to conduct this flight under the authority of a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization on March 30. The certificate permitted Ikhana's pilot to rely on the latest Detect and Avoid technology, enabling the remote pilot on the ground to see and avoid other aircraft during the flight.

The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California and entered controlled air space almost immediately. Ikhana flew into the Class-A airspace, where commercial airliners fly, just west of Edwards at an altitude of about 20,000 feet. The aircraft then turned north toward Fresno, requiring air traffic control to be transferred from the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center to the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center. On the return trip, the pilot headed south toward Victorville, Calif., requiring communication control to be transferred back to Los Angeles, and the pilot descened over the city of Tehachapi into Class E airspace -- about 10,000 feet -- where general aviation pilots fly.

"We are flying with a suite of sophisticated technology that greatly enhances the safety capabilities of pilots flying large unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System," said Scott Howe, Armstrong test pilot. "We took the time to mitigate the risks and to ensure that we, as a program, were prepared for this flight."

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - June 2020

    June 2020

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