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NASA’s Ames Research Center coordinated the UTM test

NASA together with the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) have conducted the first and largest demonstration of its UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform which saw 22 drones flown simultaneously to assess
rural operations.

The UTM research platform checked for conflicts, approved or rejected the flight plans and notified users of constraints. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, monitored operations and system load and gathered qualitative feedback to identify capability gaps to further refine the
UTM research.

A total of 24 drones flew multiple times throughout the three-hour test, with 22 flying simultaneously at one point. The mission was declared successful, given the minimum success criteria of 16 simultaneous operations was achieved. In addition to the live aircraft interacting with UTM, NASA Ames introduced dozens of virtual aircraft into the same airspace to further enhance the test. This mixing of live flights with virtual flights provided additional insight for future tests to refine the UTM concept.

This test of UTM Technical Capability Level one addressed rural UAS operations within line-of-site, such as could be potentially used for applications for agriculture, firefighting and power line monitoring. The UTM project has four technical capability levels, each increasing in complexity, culminating with level four – with potential applicability for high-density urban UAS operations. NASA is working closely with the FAA and plans to turn over its UTM research to the FAA in 2019 for further testing.

Props to all involved. A lot of people spent a lot of time planning and then preparing for this test. I think that there is a lot of good news here – first the UTM worked so it’s now beyond proof-of-concept. Lessons were learned that will improve various aspects of the process.
Perhaps more important, I think that this should create some confidence and momentum at NASA, in the FAA, in the press and the public. Incidents like the recent alleged Heathrow drone strike understandably create a lot of concern and doubt about whether the authorities can really handle the situation. This type of success demonstrates that UAVs can and will be effectively managed.

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