Test Flight Moves UAS A Step Closer To NAS Ops

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If you're not yet comfortable with the idea of unmanned aircraft operating in the U.S. national airspace system, well, that day gets closer all the time, and a recent test flight conducted by GE Aviation brought it even closer. Earlier this month, GE Aviation and AAI Corporation successfully flew the first "proof of concept" flight demonstrations of an AAI Shadow unmanned aircraft system controlled with a GE four-dimensional trajectory (4DT) flight management system certified for use in commercial manned aircraft. The flights were conducted at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal airfield in Alabama, as part of an FAA research project to demonstrate ways to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Craig Hoover, director of advanced marketing and technology at GE Aviation, told flightglobal.com the FMS technology could have far-reaching implications. The tests showed the system could navigate more precisely than pilots in the cockpit, he said, and as the technology develops, "you could think about having a single pilot in cargo aircraft."

The first flight took off at 2:50 p.m. local time on Dec. 3. It lasted 45 minutes and demonstrated both lateral and vertical control of the Shadow 200 UAS coupled with the GE FMS. On Dec. 4, a three-hour demonstration allowed for more rigorous testing. "This is a momentous event for the unmanned aircraft community," said Steven Reid, AAI's vice president of unmanned aircraft systems. "We have seen America's military embrace the valuable situational awareness and protection that unmanned aircraft can provide, and their mission profiles are expanding continuously as a result. Our Shadow aircraft demonstration with GE Aviation's FMS is a first step toward exploring how unmanned aircraft can deliver those same benefits for homeland security, law enforcement and other missions right here at home."