Virtual Air Boss

Firms pair up for next phase of drone management system testing

Following the successful tests of the first phase of NASA’s unmanned aircraft system traffic management system (UTM) in April, preparations for the next, more complicated, technical capability demonstration are underway. These second-phase tests will focus on beyond-line-of-sight operations and will be significantly more challenging and critical for integrating UAS into the national airspace.

The first technical capability level test featured the simultaneous flights of 22 aircraft communicating with the UTM; the drones were operated at the six rural Federal Aviation Administration’s test sites across the country. For October’s UTM technical capability level 2 demonstration, aircraft will have to report their positions in flight to a public portal, which will create greater situational awareness of the airspace for safer operations. 

Unmanned systems manufacturer AeroVironment announced that its small UAS, Puma AE, would be working with the VirtualAirBoss system from SmartC2, a flight management system service provider, in NASA’s October demonstration. The two firms will make dynamic adjustments to adapt to changes in the availability of airspace, and also test contingency management technologies. The VirtualAirBoss solution will serve as the bridge between the Puma ground control station and the NASA UTM research server.

The VirtualAirBoss solution provides a browser-based, service-oriented architecture that simplifies communication with other systems and can exchange data with NASA’s UTM platform. For this demo, “VirtualAirBoss will be used as the UTM ‘client’ for receiving data from the aircraft for pre-flight scheduling, in-flight positioning and post-flight closeout,” SmartC2 CEO Stuart Rudolph said. All the data “will be brokered through the VirtualAirBoss to the UTM [technical level 2] research platform.”

Puma’s asset and operational details will be captured organically in VirtualAirBoss, including all airframe identifying details, speed parameters, control modes, lost link capabilities and flight history. These asset and operational details, along with personnel qualifications, availability and certifications, will be available to authorized users of VirtualAirBoss, and are easily included in any required or requested reports.

“AeroVironment and SmartC2 are eager to support NASA and the FAA with proven, reliable technologies that will speed the development of beyond-line-of-sight standards and requirements to enable the safe integration of UAS into U.S. national airspace,” AeroVironment’s Kirk Flittie said. “UAS operating beyond-line-of-sight will bring transformational capabilities to utilities, agriculture, oil and gas, railroads and other industries with large areas and long distances to monitor and manage.”

About the Author

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

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