The first advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could come as soon as this year, Jay Merkle, executive director of the FAA unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) office, said during the Vertical Flight Society’s 2021 Autonomous VTOL Technical Meeting and Electric VTOL Symposium on Jan. 26.
“Based on where we see projects, probably our first UAM/AAM aircraft to get certified will happen sometime this year and we’ve got probably two or three others right behind,” Merkle said. “And based on those companies’ projections, they really want to begin operations by 2023. Those are more testing and operations and then really commercial for-fee services around 2024.”
Merkle did not share specifics about which aircraft was close to certification. The FAA’s definition of AAM is intentionally broad to include a range of different aircraft. This includes what was previously referred to as urban air mobility aircraft.
“We made the transition away from Urban Air Mobility to Advanced Air Mobility, to ensure that we were covering all of the concepts that people were bringing to us, that includes commercial inner city, long-range, intra-city, cargo delivery, public services, and then private and recreational vehicles.”
The FAA is working with over 30 AAM companies with varying aircraft and engine types including electric.
The FAA is not going to be certifying AAM aircraft like UAS, but they will be taking some knowledge from the UAS space to integrate into the AAM aircraft certification standards, Merkle said. “These standards will have to be open to multiple concepts because of the wide variety of aircraft in this space and have different qualifications for pilots, training, and maintenance. Ultimately, however, they will be following part 21 and part 23 type certification though.
“We believe the societal expectations for those aircraft are that they operate like any other part 21 or part 23 aircraft with part 91 operation, and that’s where we’re headed,” Merkle said. “So we’re not treating those like UAS, but what we’ve seen is learn some things in the UAS space that we’re applying.”
One big complication when certifying these aircraft is their level of automation. Some aircraft will include features like detect and avoid technology or be piloted autonomously.
“Functions that are traditionally done by an airman such as, detect and avoid, or see and avoid in the case of a UAS, are now being done by the aircraft…Many of the pilot functions in managing the aircraft will now be done by aircraft exclusively and so this also creates a difference in how you interact with the airspace,” Merkle said. “But whether the pilot or is onboard or off-board, these changes in boundaries create a number of complexities for us in moving through our regulatory infrastructure.”
Merkle said an area where he would like to see improvement is more focus on airworthiness.
“There has not been sufficient emphasis on airworthiness in terms of civil operations in that community, and we’ve had a very strong message recently, of trying to get more and more companies to go through the airworthiness process that we have,” Merkle said. “We’ve made some great policy changes to make it easier and more scalable to them.”
The FAA is focused on moving towards performance-based regulation that is heavily dependent on consensus standards, Merkle said. This will require the FAA, industry, the public to collaborate as the standards are developed.
“We were trying to work with industry to get clarity around standardization and coalesce around vehicle characteristics and this really becomes a workload issue for the FAA,” Merkle said. “If industry asks the FAA to work on 15 to 20, very different designs, that will take a tremendous amount of resources, if we can create some patterns around designs and create some commonality and standardization around designs.”
The FAA has to work within its current regulatory structure when certifying these aircraft. Merkle said so far they have not seen any major obstacle on this structure that would prevent AAM operations.
However, as these operations move forward Merkle said more impediments will come up.
“We realized as the operations get more and more advanced, we will probably have additional challenges,” Merkle said. “One of the challenges that is aligned with this, but is somewhat separate, is the whole area of airspace integration and equity. I think this is going to be a big challenge for this community, because the traditional operators in this airspace will not easily yield their positions.”
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The Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (FTUAS) will fill a gap in current UAS systems by including key capabilities like vertical takeoff, reduced size and footprint, and faster setup time to make the drone more runway independent, Army Col. Scott Anderson, Project Manager of UAS for the Army, said during a presentation at the Vertical Flight Society’s 2021 Autonomous VTOL Technical Meeting and Electric VTOL Symposium on Jan. 26.
The final FTUAS acquisition strategy will be released this summer, Anderson said. The FTUAS will replace the RQ-7B Shadow Block III drone and is expected to be operational in 2035 like other UAS the Army is looking to upgrade.
“We’re taking a holistic look at our portfolio and modernizing that across from our largest system Gray Eagle to our control mechanisms today,” Anderson said. “It’s important that we do that because it’s really the first time that we’ve done that holistically in our UAS fleet…It looks like it entails a lot of work all at the same time and it really does, but ultimately to be able to deliver capabilities that we need to be able to fight and win in a multi-domain environment you have to do it like this, you have to multiply and you have to modify your entire portfolio.”
The FTUAS needs to be runway independent, Anderson said. This will provide Brigade Combat Teams with a more mobile reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition capability. The reduced size and footprint and faster set up time will also contribute to this goal.
Other capabilities for the FTUAS concept currently include over six hours of endurance, 80-100 kilometer operational range, and the ability to be CH-47 transportable, Anderson said.
The Army has been conducting demonstrations with the Martin UAV’s V-Bat, Textron’s [TXT] AAI Corp’s Aersonde, L3Harris’ FVR-90, and Aerovironment’s Arcturus JUMP 20 to inform the Capabilities Development Documents (CDD). The final CDD will go to the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) in the fourth quarter of 2021.
“The final acquisition strategy hasn’t been approved yet for FTUAS so one of the things that we’re contemplating is to buy smaller numbers of these systems and build them,” Anderson said. “So, I like that. I think as a PM [project manager], you want as much flexibility as you can have in delivering capability. I think the days of saying hey here’s the final solution go buy all of that and build it is behind us, because, as you know, by the time that you filled the last of that capability over several years, it’s almost obsolete.”
While industry is eager to receive the final acquisition strategy for FTUAS, Anderson said he has found value in demonstrating these systems through a process he calls buy, try, and inform.
“I like the idea of giving small increments out to the Army, getting feedback from soldiers, and then coming back to industry and saying, we’re going to add some different capability,” Anderson said. “That allows industry to participate better and gives you more opportunity to participate and doesn’t fix the Army to one single solution.”
The FTUAS will also follow Modular Open System Architecture (MOSA) standards which will allow the Army to easily upgrade UAS in the future. This will also add flexibility to future UAS and offers multiple solutions across the entire fleet.
“Now, that’s a paradigm change for us in the Army,” Anderson said. “It makes people nervous because you have to sustain it and you have to maintain it. Your supply strategies got to be very smart. We have to make these things very cost efficient.”
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Researchers at Purdue University have created a turbulence model for vortex collisions that could allow aircraft engineers and designers to build aircraft more capable of handling extreme scenarios.
The new model, known as the Coherent-vorticity-Preserving Large-Eddy Simulation (CvP LES), requires less data processing, less time, and more accuracy to model vortex behavior without the need for more computational power. Current simulators used by engineers are time-intensive, costly, and often inaccurate.
“What we have managed to do is find a way to get closer to that step where a computer model can handle everything and the way we do it is we model some of the complexity that is inherent in these sort of flows and the structure of turbulence,” Carlo Scalo, a Purdue associate professor of mechanical engineering with a courtesy appointment in aeronautics and astronautics, told Avionics International. “We model it with a physics-based model so that it makes it easier for computers to actually get to the point where we can model the whole airplane.”
Scalo said the complexity of every detail of what happens around an airplane is still too much for any available computer to calculate. However, this model allows for those calculations to happen without a computer with more computational power.
“Before our approach, we needed the computer to simulate the whole flow around an airplane…It doesn’t exist yet,” Scalo said. “We made that possible now. We shortened the time to the point where we can write a complete simulation or execute a complete simulation.”
Scalo describes vortices like dominoes. A big vortex trips a smaller one and then so on. All these vortices form a sort of dance with each other as they are triggered.
“What I mean by that is that these bigger vortices, which are the target of our model, they generate smaller ones and then even smaller ones and then even smaller and they all dance with each other,” Scalo. “What we have been able to do is to model that dance with minimal computational effort.”
Previous models were not able to capture the vorticity which made them less accurate, Scalo said. The computer models would artificially truncate the vertices because they were very difficult to track. The new model is able to track these with great accuracy.
“Engineers say first-order impact, meaning if this model is 10 percent more accurate and the prediction of the whole aircraft performance will be at least 10 percent more accurate as well. We’re dealing with turbulence and vertices of the size of the airplane itself right. So it’s quite impactful in that, in that matter.”
This research was funded by the Department of Defense and its facilities were used for large-scale computations, according to Purdue.
“The thing that’s really clever about Purdue’s approach is that it uses information about the flow physics to decide the best tactic for computing the flow physics,” Dr. Matthew Munson, Program Manager for Fluid Dynamics at the U.S. Army Research Office, said in a press statement from the Army. “There is enormous potential for this to have a real impact on the design of vehicle platforms and weapons systems that will allow our Soldiers to successfully accomplish their missions.”
While this research was funded by the DoD for military aircraft, turbulence and vortexes are not a unique military aircraft problem. This model could be used for commercial aircraft as well.
“Actually, this work is, I would argue, even more important for commercial airplanes because commercial airplanes need stability,” Scalo said. “It’s uncomfortable for passengers to feel that turbulence. Fighter jets are designed to be in a constant state of instability.”
Now that the model is published, it must be integrated in DoD source codes. The researchers will have to work together with the DoD to raise the technology readiness level and put this model into real simulations. This would also involve the researchers being granted a higher-level contract with the DoD.
“I always look forward to integrating what I do in the DoD’s workflow as soon as possible…I look forward to getting a 6.2 or 6.3 level type of contract with DoD and help them achieve these goals…I think, for every successful 6.1 level research there needs to be an immediate path for transition to apply to work,” Scalo said.
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Transportation lawmakers scrutinized the return to passenger carrying service of the 737 MAX in European airspace as the European Union Aviation Agency (EASA) anticipates issuing its final Airworthiness Directive (AD) for the aircraft that has remain grounded in the region, while authorities in other parts of the world approved its return in recent months.
EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky, answered a series of questions from members of the European Parliament (MEPs) during a Jan. 25 transportation committee hearing on topics ranging from EASA’s independence from the FAA in its re-certification process to the stability of the aircraft given the placement of the engines. EASA received 38 total comments on the AD that it published on Nov. 24, a week after the FAA published theirs.
The agency’s AD is nearly a replica of the FAA’s directive, with two exceptions. Pilots are permitted by EASA “explicitly” to intervene and stop a “stick shaker from continuing to vibrate once it has been erroneously activated by the system to prevent this distracting the crew,” the agency writes in the AD.
Airlines operating EASA-registered MAX aircraft will also be prohibited from using the aircraft’s autopilot on high-precision Required Navigation Performance – Authorization Required (RNP AR) approaches. There is also a plan for EASA to distribute a report, along with the AD, to the European Union’s (EU) 27 independent individual national aviation authorities, explaining how their review was independent from the FAA and others.
“We also learned more on the relationship between the FAA and EASA. We have a bi-lateral safety agreement that was signed some time ago, under which the direction had been taken to reduce more and more the level of involvement of EASA on FAA-approved projects,” Ky said. “Of course, given those tragedies for which we have seen, we have stopped this trend and we will increase our level of involvement, and our independent review of US projects in order to build our own safety assessment of those projects.”
According to Ky, none of the comments received on the draft AD provided enough impetus to generate major changes to the original version of the directive they first published. A key element of EASA’s review and re-certification process for the MAX’s return to service was that they “started from scratch,” he said, re-assessing the original system safety assessment, functional hazard analysis, and assumptions that were taken related to crew reaction times to the original design of the 737 MAX flight control system.
One of the return to flight operations requirements for European carriers includes software installation verifications and testing, implementation of a new flight manual with minimum equipment list changes, and an angle of attack (AoA) sensor system test.
Already, a Dec. 26 emergency landing of an Air Canada 737 MAX on a flight from Tuscon to Montreal presented an opportunity for EASA to demonstrate further independence from FAA review of aircraft systems and technical issues. Ky explained how that flight’s emergency landing had nothing to do with the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) or other elements of the flight control system.
“It was an incident with a Canadian airline 737 MAX ferry flight, so it did not have passengers onboard. They made an emergency landing following a technical incident on one of their engines so it’s not at all related to MCAS or flight controls. It was due to an engine problem. This happens, and there was no real safety issues associated with this. We followed what happened very closely and that’s part of the much higher level of scrutiny we will have on operations of the MAX moving forward.”
Some of the airlines operating the MAX in Europe include Air Italy, Icelandair, Norwegian, and LOT Polish Airlines, among others. Ryanair also placed a $22 billion order for 75 new 737 MAX aircraft on Dec. 3.
Brazil’s GOL became the first airline to return the MAX to service on Dec. 9, followed by American Airlines on Dec. 29. The MAX is also scheduled to return to service in Canadian airspace independently approved by Transport Canada on Feb. 1.
Ky said human factors experts will also be involved earlier in the design and architecture approval process of new aircraft technologies. The EASA chief also sees COVID-19’s impact on the reduction in passenger demand to relieve some of the pressure on necessary training pilots for its return to service.
“Lessons learned on the techniques for certification of aircraft, typically we saw the very important aspect or importance of human factors,” Ky said. “What we have decided to do to give you a very simple example is to have our human factors experts intervene as early as possible in the design so that they can really give their own inputs into the design of the architecture of the aircraft to make sure the operational feeling and training requirements for the pilots are properly taken into account.”
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Check out the Jan. 24 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the latest headlines and updates happening across the global aerospace industry.
In a Jan. 18 press release, Air Canada confirmed its plans to resume flying the Boeing 737 MAX on passenger carrying routes starting Feb. 1, 2021. The schedule update comes following the issuing of an airworthiness directive (AD) by Transport Canada and lifting of the existing Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in Canadian airspace for the 737 MAX.
“We are very confident the nearly two-year regulatory process undertaken by Transport Canada and other regulators worldwide ensures the utmost safety of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet from nose to tail, and from wing to wing. As part of Air Canada’s multi-layered approach to reinforcing and enhancing safety, our internal experts have also worked with independent specialists to conduct assessments of the aircraft and our operating procedures,” Captain Murray Strom, Vice President, Flight Operations at Air Canada, said in a Jan. 18 press release.
Air Canada routes featuring the 737 MAX include Toronto to Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg, with others to follow. Since the Boeing 737 MAX first resumed commercial flights in early December 2020, more than 1,025 flights have been operated safely by airlines worldwide, according to Air Canada.
The airline is providing passengers with the option to change their flight from a 737 MAX if preferred at no extra charge.
Airbus is updating its production rate planning for its A320 Family aircraft in response to the market environment.
The new average production rates for the A320 family will now lead to a gradual increase in production from the current rate of 40 per month to 43 by the third quarter, and 45 by the fourth quarter of 2021.
This latest production plan represents a slower ramp up than the previously anticipated 47 aircraft per month from July.
The A220 monthly production rate will increase from four to five aircraft per month, starting in the second quarter.
Petah Tikva, Israel-based satellite networking provider Gilat Satellite Networks has successfully tested the use of its Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) over Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) network, according to a Jan. 21 press release.
For the first time, a live demonstration of an ESA terminal was performed on an Inmarsat operational GX satellite. The successful test was performed on Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite at 62.6 degrees East. Gilat said its self-pointing antenna logged-on automatically to the GX network, supporting bi-directional real-time communication in both fixed and dynamic antenna positioning modes.
Beam steering under the changing elevation and skew angles was done while managing the power spectral density (PSD) threshold, in order to minimize interference with neighboring satellites, in accordance to regulations, according to Gilat.
“We are pleased with the successful demonstration of Gilat’s ESA technology operating over Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network,” Jerome Soumagne, chief engineer, VP of networks at Inmarsat said in the release. “The seamless integration of our G-MODMAN with Gilat’s antenna control system, via standard open interfaces, is a key enabler to demonstrate the ability to support Electronic Steered Array Technology in Inmarsat’s global satellite network.”
International Airlines Group (IAG) airlines, including British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, are now operating more than 250 aircraft that feature in-flight Internet service provided by the European Aviation Network (EAN), according to a Jan. 20 Inmarsat press release.
EAN, developed by Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom in partnership with Thales, Nokia, Airbus, Cobham and Eclipse Technics provides a blend of ground and satellite-based connectivity to EAN-equipped aircraft.
“An important factor in crossing more than 250 aircraft activations, including British Airways’ entire short-haul fleet, has been the record-breaking installation time we have achieved with EAN – less than nine hours per aircraft,” Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation said in the release. “This will ensure a smooth rollout on remaining IAG aircraft and we’re excited that even more passengers will soon have access to the industry’s best-in-class inflight connectivity, providing the same quality of broadband that people expect on the ground, from the comfort of their cabin.”
The U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a potentially $3.6 billion operations and sustainment contract for the company’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) on Jan. 21.
“This contract provides for research, development, test, and evaluation, integration and operations and sustainment for existing and future payloads contained in or connected to the BACN system and associated ground stations or controls, ancillary equipment, support equipment and system integration laboratories.,” DoD said in a contract announcement. Work is to be completed in San Diego and overseas locations by Jan. 24, 2026.
Last month, Northrop Grumman said that BACN has 200,000 combat hours in more than 15,500 missions since its first deployment with the U.S. Air Force in October 2008.
Carried on four Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Global Hawk Block 20 drones and three E-11A modified Bombardier business jets, BACN is a high-altitude, airborne communications gateway that translates and distributes multi-domain imagery, voice and tactical data for missions, such as airdrop, convoy, humanitarian assistance, close air support, and theater air control systems operations.
The Air Force has dubbed BACN “Wi-Fi in the Sky.”
Israeli and Greek Ministries of Defense have made an agreement to establish and operate a flight school for the Hellenic Air Force which Elbit Systems will operate, according to a Jan. 5 press release from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The agreement with Elbit and the Hellenic Government will extend for about 20 years and is worth approximately $1.68 billion (approximately €1.375 billion).
“This is not just a defense export agreement, but rather a partnership for at least 20 years,” Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yair Kulas, Directorate for International Defense Cooperation in the Israel Ministry of Defense (SIBAT) Director, said in a press statement. “I would like to thank the Greek Ministry of National Defense for its trust and for assigning this important task to the Israel Ministry of Defense and our excellent defense industry.”
The agreement between the Israeli and Greek Ministries of Defense includes the procurement of ten M-346 aircraft, and maintenance of T-6 aircraft, according to the release.
According to the release, Elbit Systems will also be establishing a Greek Flight school in the near future.
“We are honored to have been selected to provide such an important capability to the Hellenic Air Force, which we believe will contribute to the further strengthening of the bilateral relationship between Israel and Greece,” Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems, said in a press statement from the company. “This selection attests to the leading position we hold in the area of training, providing tested know-how and proven technologies that improve readiness while reducing costs.”
The Japanese Coast Guard completed a successful flight test of new maritime surveillance technologies including a SeaVue Expanded Mission Capability (XMC) radar and AN/DAS-4 multi-spectral targeting system giving its drones wide-area surveillance to identify targets like small maritime vessels, according to a Jan. 21 press release.
The Japanese Coast Guard used a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) for the test flight equipped with the radar and sensor from Raytheon Intelligence & Space, accord to the release.
“Our advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solutions can aid the Japan Coast Guard to perform their duties effectively in alignment with Japan’s maritime security priorities,” Barbara Borgonovi, vice president of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems for RI&S, said in a press statement. “Through our partnership with GA-ASI, SeaVue XMC and DAS-4 contribute to SeaGuardian’s critical role to help operators make decisions faster. Our wide-area surveillance technologies have proven track records that can be tailored to any mission in the maritime environment.”
The Helicopter Association International (HAI) announced the cancellation of the HAI HELI-EXPO 2021 after backlash from industry voices following a previous announcement that the expo would occur despite rising COVID-19 cases, according to a Jan. 20 press release.
“Please understand that we did not make this decision lightly,” James Viola, president and CEO of HAI, said in a press statement. “HAI is here to support our members and customers. Leading up to mid-January, the majority of industry voices who contacted us supported holding Expo as long as health and safety protocols were in place. We took extraordinary steps, working with our partners in New Orleans, to be able to conduct a safe event. Pandemic conditions have changed, and the majority of our stakeholders have recently expressed discomfort with the logistics involved in business travel at this time. In response, we concluded that we had to cancel HAI HELI-EXPO 2021.”
The expo will not be rescheduled and instead, efforts will go into producing HAI HELI-EXPO 2022 which is scheduled to occur in Texas in March of next year, according to the release.
Planet Nine added a Bombardier Global Express BD-700 to its managed fleet marking the third aircraft to move to its Part 135 Air Operator’s Certificate since March 2020, according to a Jan. 20 press release.
According to the press release, Planet Nine’s clients have turned to private aircraft citing safety concerns because of the pandemic. The company plans to bring its total managed aircraft to 14 by the end of February with the addition of a Global Express and Dassault Falcon 7X.
“Our floating model aircraft operation has enabled us to support a wider range of charters and flight repatriations this year, often at short notice,” Matt Walter, Planet 9 Cofounder and Director of Business Development, said in a press statement. “We have flown for charter brokers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as assisted with urgent medical professional flights. With the US borders still closed to people from the Schengen region and vice versa, leisure and business travel between North America and Europe continues to be very restrictive.”
Florida’s Shuttle Landing Facility in Titusville was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a commercial space Reentry Site Operator License (RSOL), according to a Jan. 19 press release.
The application process included determining that no significant environmental impacts would result from operations at the facility, according to the FAA. The license will be good for five years.
SpaceX sent a new batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 20. The rocket carried 60 new satellites to join SpaceX’s constellation, which now totals more than 1,000 satellites operating in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).
The Falcon 9 rocket used in this morning’s launch returned to Earth approximately 9 minutes after takeoff. The rocket landed safely on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. This marks SpaceX’s 8th use of this particular booster and the 72nd successful landing of a reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
Airbus Helicopters announced the creation of Flightlab, a “platform-agnostic flying laboratory dedicated to maturing new technologies,” according to a Jan. 22 press release. Flightlab will work on anything from technology for its current helicopter range to future fixed-wing aircraft and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
“Investing in the future remains essential, even in times of crisis, especially when those innovations bring added value to our customers by targeting increased safety, reduced pilot workload, and reduced sound levels,” Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO, said in a press statement. “Having a dedicated platform to test these new technologies on brings the future of flight a step closer and is a clear reflection of our priorities at Airbus Helicopters.”
According to Airbus, testing this year by Flightlab will include image-detection solutions with cameras to enable low altitude navigation, the Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for light helicopters, and an engine back-up system to provide emergency electric power in the event of a turbine failure.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made its first approval of automated drone operations without human pilots or observers on-site. The drones use an aerial intelligence platform, the Scout System, equipped with acoustic Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) technology and a layered redundant safety algorithm created by American Robotics to conduct beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights in the national airspace system, the company announced on Jan. 15.
The Scout System works with a base, the ScoutBase, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered Scout unmanned aircraft system (UAS), and a secure web portal, ScoutView, that interacts with the system storing data and analytics. The DAA technology and safety algorithms allow the UAS to operate safely BVLOS.
“The Scout System employs multiple risk mitigations including advanced real-time sensors and algorithms that provide various safety and reliability functions including Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) of other aircraft and obstacles, automated real-time system diagnostics and fail-safes, and automated flight mission management,” Vijay Somandepalli, American Robotics’ CTO, told Avionics International. “If anything were to deviate from the expected, safe operation plan, our drone systems automatically take immediate action to correct, such as altering its flight course and landing, as necessary to maintain safety.”
The current approvals allow one base system to power one UAS which can operate within a couple of miles of each other, Somandepalli said. However, the remote pilot can be as far away as a few states.
“With its ground-based acoustic DAA sensors, the Scout drone can operate multiple miles away from ScoutBase,” Somandepalli said. “Scout systems can be remotely monitored and piloted from thousands of miles away. For example, with our approvals, we are able to install Scout systems in Nevada and Kansas, and remotely operate them from Boston, MA without needing local pilots or visual observers (VOs).”
The distance between which the UAS and ScoutBase can operate was based on where the DAA sensors and algorithms met performance standards set by the FAA and industry, according to American Robotics. The Scout System allows UAS to fly below 400 feet in rural areas approved by the FAA.
“The ground-based acoustic DAA technology we use in the Scout system is able to detect and track aircraft out to several miles even at low altitudes where other traditional sensors such as radars struggle with issues like clutter,” Somandepalli said. “The entire Scout system has undergone rigorous and extensive testing and validation in the field in real-life conditions to ensure that it can operate safely and harmoniously in the NAS with other aircraft.”
Previous FAA waivers allowed drones to fly alone flight paths with visual observers, however, this approval does not require the human component that others did. The Scout System maps and geofences an area where the UAS will operate prior to the flight and then the system worth autonomously while being monitored remotely, according to American Robotics.
The next step after this approval will be to expand operations so multiple UAS can be monitored at the same time creating a more autonomous system with less need for human interference.
“Under the present approvals, each Scout system must be monitored by an American Robotics staff pilot remotely,” Somandepalli said. “We are working with the FAA to expand this approval such that a staff pilot can monitor and operate a multitude of Scout systems simultaneously.”
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Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr called for more competition between air navigation service providers (ANSPs) in Europe to encourage efficiency improvements within the region’s air traffic system during a Jan. 21 appearance on Eurocontrol’s “Aviation Hardtalks” series.
Spohr is the latest major European airline executive to discuss the status of the project, following Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s criticism last month of the inability of deployment of the Single European Sky over its 17 years to de-fragment air traffic management (ATM) of European airspace, which remains subject to nation-state airspace boundary rules. However, while Spohr was also critical, he believes a European regulatory push for clean energy initiatives across most major industrial markets will give a renewed vigor to the deployment of the Single European Sky.
“There’s no competition among the ANSPs. The typical mechanisms of free markets are just not at play and that’s also the reason why with all the efficiency out there, the Single European Sky in a market environment would have been created because it’s so much more efficient, but that hasn’t happened,” Spohr said. “Never the less, I have hope. I have been working at this topic for many years and just to do it for the money obviously it didn’t happen. But now we do it for the environment.”
In December, the European Commission presented an action plan including 82 different initiatives designed to infuse new digital and greener technologies into all areas of transportation across the European Union (EU). These initiatives are also part of the European Green Deal that calls for all scheduled travel for journeys under 500 km, including airline flights, to be carbon neutral.
There is also an EU 2035 milestone for zero-emission large aircraft to become market-ready, which Airbus has committed to with potential designs already unveiled. Several individual European regulatory bodies have also included similar measures in COVID-19 government-backed airline loan programs last year as well.
Austrian Airlines received 150 million from the Republic of Austria that included several sustainability commitments required by the Lufthansa subsidiary. Among them include a pledge by the airline to increase jet fuel efficiency annually by 1.5 percent and to reduce average CO₂ emissions per 100 passenger-kilometers of the entire Austrian Airlines fleet from 9.55 kg to 8.5 kg by 2030.
When Air France received a €7 billion state-backed loan in April of last year, the nation’s finance minister required the airline to cut its carbon emissions by half per passenger and per kilometer by 2030, based on 2005 levels of emissions. Lufthansa’s latest internal effort to become greener includes establishing a new corporate responsibility unit that is already participating in a partnership in the United Arab Emirates to produce “green hydrogen” by splitting water from renewable energies such as wind or solar power to produce hydrogen power for aircraft.
“We all know that there’s detours, delays, more CO₂ footprint than necessary by the lack of efficiency. That new currency of CO₂ doing the best for our planet for the next generation, creates new energy to create the Single European Sky which we have not seen when it was just about money and passenger convenience,” Spohr said.
Overall, SESAR DM accounts for 343 total Single European Sky deployment projects, valued at about €2.9 billion ($3.4 billion). The centerpiece of research and development for several ANSPs in Europe right now is the establishment of “Virtual Centers,” explained in a SESAR Joint Undertaking (JU) webinar last year.
SESAR JU describes the Virtual Center as a concept that involves transforming the way ATM data services, such as flight data, radar, and weather information are ultimately shared between physical individual air traffic controllers and other stakeholders across the air traffic ecosystem.
Spohr is also looking for more focus on modernization on an EU-wide basis from Eurocontrol. “The one thing that I see a lot of attention on is competitiveness among European players and that is there I’ve seen the fares coming down for many many years. But when it comes to efficiency in the system, especially compared to systems outside of Europe, I don’t hear that those voices strongly enough, I think Eurocontrol can play a role there it has to be pushing for modernization of the system,” he said.
COVID-19’s impact on passenger demand has Lufthansa currently losing €1 million ($1.2 million) every two hours, according to Spohr. Lufthansa had a “record-breaking” year according to Spohr, on the air cargo side of its business, with the CEO noting that they will be operating more cargo-configured MD-11s than expected as a result of increased demand for cargo shipments.
Right now, Lufthansa is one of many European airlines operating at historic lows, as the German carrier is currently operating at 20 percent of its capacity with less than half of its in-service fleet active. Spohr expects passenger travel to remain flat and relatively unchanged in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
“I’m sure that somewhere between the second and third quarter I think the vaccination effect will come into place,” Spohr said. “Testing will become more professional, which we have been pushing for some time, hopefully, quarantine will be eventually pushed back by testing and vaccination and that will give us a sharp recovery around the summer period.”
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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will be focusing on cost, timeline, sustainment, interoperability, and regulatory approvals when developing the requirements for its Next Generation Rotorcraft Capabilities (NGRC). The shift in focus was influenced by collaboration with industry through the NATO Industry Advisory Group (NIAG).
The NIAG is a high-level consultative body of senior industrialists from NATO allied and partner nations who advises NATO on key issues within the industrial and technological base.
“What I think is unique about NIAG is that this is an opportunity for industry to get in the same room and collaborate on the future,” Dan Newman, senior technical fellow and chief engineer for Phantom Works Advanced Vertical Lift at Boeing, said during the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Conference on Jan. 20. “At least in the U.S., when the military service does an integration, they talk to each of the industry representatives and then do the integration about what the future ought to be. But they are limited because they are talking to them individually and with proprietary interests at stake there is a challenge sharing any company’s information with others.”
The NGRC will replace an aging fleet of rotorcraft set to retire in the next 10 to 20 years.
NIAG started completing study groups on NGRC capabilities in 2017 and has completed three looking at NGR capabilities, integrated sustainability, and innovated military aviation acquisition.
The NIAG Study Group SG-219 focused on a concept of operations for equipment for NGRC. This group included 33 companies from 14 different countries. It was out of this group which the NIAG decided to focus on reducing life cycle costs, improving safety, and enhancing capabilities, interoperability, and sustainability, Newman said.
“We were going to consider the issues common to all platforms because we were looking at replacing the entire fleet of 1,000 aircraft, perhaps up to 2,000, and we couldn’t focus on any one mission,” Newman said. “So, what did we focus on? We focused on cost and schedule. We focused on operability. We focused on sustainment. And we focused on regulatory approval, and that was important because of the regulatory issues.”
To achieve those goals, the NIAG suggested the NGR having a modular design with multiple levels of capability so different nations could procure the capabilities they required, Newman said. They also suggested rotorcraft be designed with condition-based operations (CBO) for dynamic planning purposes.
“So not just a modular aircraft, but a modular design and development a modular acquisition process…this modularity allows you to change the avionics and the mission equipment every five years, and not have to wait until a 20-year lifecycle upgrade,” Newman said.
Newman said they also focused on capabilities being qualified and certified from day one so NATO would have acquisition and operational freedoms.
NIAG is suggesting the NATO NGRC move toward unmanned maintenance solutions to increased maintainability, Newman said. Reducing manned solutions can also reduce program costs and risks.
“We’ve been moving toward unmanning the maintenance battalion, as opposed to just unmanned in the aircraft,” Newman said. “So, this unmanned needs to be extended expanded beyond takeoff through landing that needs to be include landing through takeoff.”
Newman said NATO is also working on putting out requirements for NGRC that will include capabilities like speed, range, payload, and endurance while also taking into account the capabilities the NIAG is suggesting as well.
“The goal was to move from speeches and briefings like this one to requirements documents because if it doesn’t get into the requirements document, it will not be part of the system,” Newman said. ‘Again, if it doesn’t get into the requirements, no one will offer it. And so, speeches and articles are good, but the requirements are the pull and the draw.”
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Curtiss-Wright Corp. and Honeywell Aerospace received a technical standard order (TSO) certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for their jointly developed cockpit voice recorder (CVR), the Honeywell Connected Recorder-25 (HCR-25).
HCR-25 is the result of a 2019 agreement between Curtiss Wright and Honeywell Aerospace to develop a line of cockpit voice and flight data recorders capable of real-time data streaming and cloud upload functionality. The recorder meets EASA’s 2021 regulations requiring an extension of the minimum transmission times for Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs), Underwater Locating Devices (ULDs), and aircraft localization.
The regulation requires aircraft with a Maximum Certified Take-Off Mass (MCTOM) of more than 27,000 kg (60,000 lbs.) to feature a minimum recording duration of 25 hours.
Honeywell describes the data recorder as a “Black Box in the Sky,” where “owners, operators, and manufacturers can access the data during the flight, resulting in the potential for better maintenance predictability and operational insight through data analytics.”
“The importance of reliable cockpit voice and flight data recorders cannot be overstated. That’s why we are working alongside Curtiss-Wright to design and develop the next generation of recorders that leverages our full hardware and software expertise to meet the 25-hour requirement, and identify the right information and make it available to accident investigation agencies when it’s most needed,” Amanda King, vice president and general manager, Aerospace Connected Secure Solutions, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, said in a Jan. 19 press release.
Going beyond meeting EASA’s 25-hour CVR recording requirement, both companies also want operators to be able to access the data stored on the new FDR. Both the data and voice recorders can also serve as replacements to Honeywell’s existing HFR-5 series voice and data recorders. HCR-25 weights 4.3 kg (9.5 lbs.) and includes a 90-day-underwater locator beacon.
“With the new regulatory requirement, we saw an opportunity to evolve our recorder technology to not only meet the conditions of governing agencies but also make this product more powerful and better connected, providing aircraft operators with another source of data collection that can be used to improve aircraft maintenance and performance,” King said.
Airlines that require “Class 6” CVRs are the target market for Honeywell and Curtiss Wright with the new EASA certification. According to Curtiss Wright, the CVR is based on their Fortress FDR technology that features data link and image recording capabilities. The HCR-25 also has an expansion slot, internal data collection card, and remote USB interface so that data from the recorder can be downloaded directly to a laptop or other device.
As part of the development of the new recorders, Honeywell plans to offer the HCR-25 in several variants, including as a standalone CVR, as a standalone FDR, or as a combined voice and flight data recorder.
“Both companies are pioneers and innovators of crash-protected recorders, providing flight recorders to the industry for over 60 years,” Lynn M. Bamford, President and CEO of Curtiss-Wright Corp., said in the Honeywell release. “Working together, we will take flight recorder connectivity and performance to new heights, with extended operation and greater survivability.”
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The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract to study a radar sensing solution, the SPEKTRA radar, used by the automotive industry to see if it can be modified for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) operations in its Agility Prime program, the manufacturer of the radar, Metawave Corporation, announced in a Jan. 6 press release.
Agility Prime is the U.S. Air Force’s effort, along with numerous other federal agencies, to support booming commercial investment into eVTOLs. The SPEKTRA radar provides radar capabilities with accuracy out to 330 meters and is used in adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, and automated emergency braking in automobiles, according to the release.
The SPEKTRA radar was developed by Metawave with the help of Rhea Space Activity (RSA) who suggested the radar as a good fit for the Agility Prime program while it was in the process of becoming commercially operational, according to the release.
“Rapid technological innovation in the U.S. driverless car sector is also demonstrating remarkable compatibility with the high-performance requirements of many Department of Defense missions,” Shawn Usman, astrophysicist and Founder of RSA said in a press statement. “SPEKTRA in particular is versatile enough to support unmanned VTOL operations as well as fixed-wing flight. By guiding small yet highly innovative companies like Metawave through the complexities of programs such as AFWERX, RSA plays a crucial cooperative role in developing core technologies, like SPEKTRA, to push the boundaries of current consumer-facing innovations, while helping to solve critical national security issues.”
Metawave is working with the Arizona State University Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures in phase one of the contract, according to the release. During this phase, the radar will be modified for longer ranges and navigating three-dimensional space.
If Metawave is granted a phase two contract, they would then conduct field tests with the equipment.
“Both the automotive and eVTOL markets require the highest level of precision delivered by SPEKTRA,” Maha Achour, CEO and founder of Metawave, said in a press statement. “For both applications, the ability to reliably distinguish between several objects close together in all weather and light conditions is an important capability for all phases of transport, including flight. The most significant difference is the operational range of the radar.”
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