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Will a new radar be able to expand the area where drones can fly? Springfield Beckley Municipal Airport crews will begin installing a new kind of radar. The new device will allow air traffic controllers to see a combination of planes and UAVs.

The US Air Force and the State of Ohio are footing the $5 million radar bill in a first-of-its-kind testing that both parties hope will lead to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for beyond line of sight flight.

Right now, UAVs can only fly with visual line of sight, or an unobstructed path between the UAV and the controller. According to wvxu.org, at the Springfield airport that means 11 nautical square kilometers. With beyond line of sight that would increase to 321 kilometers and an altitude of up to 3 kilometers.

FAA approval for the Air Force is expected in six to nine months, with Ohio’s application coming shortly after. Approval for the state means private companies like Amazon could test in Springfield.

Guidance for UAV operators would come from an air traffic controller who is looking at the special radar on the ground in a trailer. Air traffic controllers in the tower would continue to focus on planes.

Wright Patterson Air Force Research Lab Deputy Director Art Huber, explained: “Now knowing where they are and what direction they’re going, the operator can tell the pilot in charge of a small UAV, ‘Hey, you have an airplane, such and such distance from you. Why don’t you turn in a new direction or airspeed or new altitude or whatever in order to stay away or avoid a collision.”