NASA has flown 22 drones simultaneously to assess the rural operations of its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) research platform.
The test was conducted by NASA and operators from the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) six UAS test sites across the country.
Operators interacted with NASA’s UTM research platform, entering flight plans and planned operations with various aircraft and software.
The research platform checked for conflicts and approved or rejected the flight plans, as well as informed UAS users of the various constraints.
The systems were monitored by engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley, California, who also gathered feedback to further refine UTM research.
NASA Safe Autonomous Systems Operations UTM efforts project and lead Parimal Kopardekar said: "NASA extensively tested Technical Capability Level one and worked very closely with the FAA test sites, and the UTM research platform performed well.
"This test would not have been possible without the six FAA test sites – it was a collaborative effort to ensure a successful test."
The three-hour test saw 24 drones fly multiple times. At one stage, 22 of the drones were flying simultaneously.
Dozens of virtual aircraft were introduced by NASA Ames to further enhance the test and refine the UTM concept.
NASA engineers monitored weather conditions at each site to ensure the safe flight of the drones, which cannot fly in rain or strong winds.
UTM technical lead and flight test director Joseph Rios said: "NASA built the research platform and tested it on a local scale, but we needed the experience and expertise at each of the FAA test sites to exercise the platform in this geographically diverse way.
"Their efforts and skills in managing field deployments were pivotal to the success of this activity."
Each test site decided how they wanted to communicate with the UTM research platform.
FAA Texas test site UAS pilot Mathew Nelson said: "Using a traffic management framework to separate the aircraft and provide position awareness to air traffic control or to a mission commander helps us provide space between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft, and actually promotes the safety of integrating those two into the airspace."
The test also evaluated whether the drones could be used for firefighting, agriculture and power line monitoring.
Image: Drones were flown simultaneously from six different FAA test sites across the US. Photo: courtesy of NASA Ames.