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Army Leads Pentagon In Push To Get FAA to OK UAVs in U.S.

Posted by Richard Whittle on

WASHINGTON: The Army is inviting the other armed services to join in a demonstration this summer at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah of ground-based sense-and-avoid (GBSAA) technologies that may help win Federal Aviation Administration approval of far larger numbers of military drone flights in U.S. civilian airspace.

Mary Ottman, deputy product director for unmanned systems airspace integration concepts in the Army’s UAS Project Office at Huntsville, Ala., told an Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) conference the Dugway exercise is part of a “crawl, walk, run” Army strategy for gaining FAA expansion of military access to civilian airspace for unmanned aircraft flights. The Defense Department has designated the Army the lead service in developing GBSAA systems.

“The ultimate goal is that an unmanned aircraft system will be able to file and fly like manned aircraft systems,” Ottman said.

An FAA reauthorization bill that won final approval in Congress this week requires the FAA to develop a plan to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system (NAS) by 2015 while setting new standards for performance and safety.

The Army in particular has a growing need for access to the NAS, Ottman said, because “we have training requirements, we have testing requirements, we have to provide defense support of civilian authorities.”

Existing law requires UAS operators to obtain a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to fly unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace. The FAA generally requires that a manned chase plane and at least one ground observer monitor such flights to meet its “see-and-avoid” standard, under which aircraft operators must be able to visually recognize other aircraft so they can avoid collisions.

The services are working on various GBSAA technologies in a quest to develop systems safe enough that the FAA will accept them as an alternative to its usual “see-and-avoid” requirement.

The Army won a COA from the FAA two years ago to test a prototype GBSAA system that included ground radars at El Mirage, Calif., but suspended the experiment last year after only 11 hours of flights. Ottman said a “software glitch” had caused a halt in the flights and the Army decided to transfer its GBSAA experiments to Dugway’s military airspace, where no FAA approval is needed.

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