testing air traffic control for drones

Drone traffic management platform gets test flight

NASA is taking a big step toward operationalizing its traffic management system for unmanned aircraft with a first-of-its-kind test on April 19.  Up to 24 UAS are being flown simultaneously at the six Federal Aviation Administration test sites, NASA officials said.

The test of the cloud-based UAS traffic management system is a first in several areas, including multisite testing of the UTM research platform, coordinated tests across the six FAA tests sites, live simultaneous flight tests and as live use of UTM displays and apps at each test site.   

UTM  tracks low-altitude drones, monitoring their locations, areas they should avoid, whether any other vehicles are trying to operate in the same airspace and what the weather will be like in a given area. Those participating in the test flights will enter planned flight operations while the UTM research platform will accept or reject plans and check for conflicts. 

“The purpose of this test is for operators outside NASA from all six FAA test sites to interact with the UTM research platform at geographically diverse locations, using various aircraft and different software clients to test rural, within line-of-sight UAS operations so that NASA, in collaboration with the FAA, can obtain information to further refine and develop the research,” NASA said. 

Test flights are being conducted in Fairbanks, Alaska; Grand Forks, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; Rome, N.Y.; Blacksburg, Va.; Bushwood, Md.; and if weather permits, Corpus Christi, Texas.

NASA has been developing, testing and implementing this UTM alongside the FAA, which is working to regulate large-scale UAS integration into the national airspace.  Late last year, NASA successfully completed testing for the first of four UTM technology development stages when it demonstrated flying in rural environments, which includes flights associated with agriculture, firefighting and infrastructure monitoring.

While some commercial UTMs are already available, NASA’s tests indicate progress in the gradual integration of UAS into the national airspace that will be welcomed by drone enthusiasts and businesses looking to capitalize on this burgeoning technology.

According to NASA, research and testing results will be transitioned to the FAA in 2019 for further testing and UAS integration. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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