Writer: Dennis Zaklan
From May 2-4, New Mexico State University’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center supported AAI Corporation’s Shadow 200 Tactical UAS in conducting flights over the skies of Hatch, N.M. These were four-dimensional flight tests in support of efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration Tech Center to further UAS flights in the National Airspace System.
NMSU’s UAS FTC is the only FAA-approved FTC in the nation. The FAA and NMSU developed the center to provide a place for manufacturers, government agencies and other developers or operators to safely test fly, demonstrate and train their UAS.
During these flight tests, the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Program Office had several representatives on-site to observe and review the NMSU procedures and view the chase plane operations to assist them with moving forward on developing safe procedures that will enable UAS more access to the NAS in the future. The chase plane provides the UAS pilot-in-command with eyes in the sky, enabling the UAS to see and avoid other aircraft during flight away from the launch/recover location.
Three specific types of flights were reflected. The first was the checkout flight for the system to ensure the entire system was functioning properly before any test flights could occur. The second type was performing the link-up between the chase plane and the unmanned aircraft. The actual link-up went extremely well because of the outstanding procedures discussed by the UAS FTC operations staff and the AAI flight team. All parties were amazed at how smoothly it went, which is a tribute to very well developed procedures and the aviation experience on both teams. The two teams meshed very well, and this enabled the 4DT test flights and demonstration to be performed safely within the NAS.
The 4DT test and demonstration flights are part of a step-by-step process to develop and validate that UAS’ will be able to fly with manned aircraft in the future and have the ability to perform avoidance maneuvers for safety of flight. These tests being performed by the AAI Shadow TUAV, with software developed by General Electric Company on board the UA and in the ground control station, proved that the UA could perform maneuvers when receiving input from another source. The 4DT demonstration was conducted shortly after noon on May 4, with several of the flight cards that had been flown earlier as part of the testing. Representatives from the FAA Tech Center, the UAPO and Hatch Mayor Judd Nordyke viewed the demonstraton.
The test flights proved the viability of the UAS FTC with AAI Corporation, one of the largest UAS manufacturers in the U.S. Discussions are ongoing to further the relationship and perform additional UAS flights in the UAS FTC’s 15,000 square miles of FAA-approved airspace.