NASA UTM TCL2 Demo Ready To Fly
Drone Co-habitation Services operates a Phantom 3  – photo courtesy NASA Ames

First UTM demonstration of multiple drones flying and landing beyond visual line-of-sight of the pilot, with paths separated by altitude.

In mid-October NASA partners will fly five unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, beyond visual line-of-sight of their human operators-in-command, to test planning, tracking and alerting capabilities of NASA’s UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform.

During the test, two of the drones will fly beyond visual line-of-sight, and up to three drones will fly in the same test airspace, separated by altitude and within line-of-sight of their operators. The pilots will use the UTM research platform to give them information about all drones’ locations and proximity to surrounding operations. UTM will inform airspace users of potential hazards and conflicting operations that may impact their plans.

During the test NASA will demonstrate UTM’s Technical Capability Level 2 (TCL2) by connecting real drone tracking systems to the research platform, providing alerts for approaching drones and manned aircraft (live or simulated), as well as providing information about weather or other hazards. UTM partners will use various unmanned aircraft connected to the research platform to test beyond line-of-sight UAS operations so that NASA, in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), can obtain information to further refine and develop
the research.

This test boasts several firsts:

  • First UTM demonstration of multiple drones flying and landing beyond visual line-of-sight of the pilot, with paths separated by altitude. This uses the UTM research platform for information about potential hazards and conflicting operations.

  • First demonstration of prioritizing airspace access for emergency response drones through UTM airspace management combined with notification to other UAS operators to clear the area to allow emergency responders access.

  • First demonstration of system detect-and-alert capabilities. Live radar and weather systems will provide alerts to UTM operators based on real data measurements. The team will further test the capability by introducing simulated weather events, such as high winds, to obtain operator feedback and further refine the capability.

  • First demonstration of automated alert when aircraft are not conforming to their flight plans. This safety feature warns UAS operators and in future FAA systems of these hazards, such as another drone flying away from its planned path or loss of connection with an operator.

  • First demonstration of dynamic re-routing capability that allows an unmanned airborne vehicle to request flight plan changes. This function allows operators to update their missions in response to either changing airspace conditions or new
    mission objectives.

The NASA UTM program is laying the foundation for the software that will make autonomous flight – including drone delivery, BVLOS and high altitude operations – possible. At the end of Phase 4, NASA will have completed their work and hand the results over to the FAA.
UTM’s Technical Capability Level One Test involved 22 UAVs flying from different Test Sites. As you can see, UTM CL2 took on and met some very significant challenges on 10/20/16. Now that the test is completed,  NASA will offer these capabilities to all FAA test sites for further validation and assessment of UTM TCL2.  TCL 3 testing is planned for January 2018 and TCL 4 is planned for 2019.
If you would like to know more about the UTM program, here is an excellent presentation by Parimal Kopardekar, the Manager of the NASA’s Safe Autonomous System Operations (SASO) Project that he made at Google in January 2016.
The great unknown is how long it will then take for the FAA to issue waivers or make new rules. Many observers expect that with increasing integration into the NAS, the FAA will begin requiring more traditional types of certification for pilot training, airframes, maintenance and software. So if you do the math it becomes pretty clear that there will be no drone deliveries or other autonomous operations at any scale before 2020.

Congratulations to the test team!



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