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NASA’s goal to help accelerate routine UAV operations into the US national airspace has moved one step closer with a successful flight demo. The agency flew its SkyGuardian unmanned aerial vehicle in the skies above Southern California as part of a joint demonstration with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA‑ASI).

The flight demonstrated ways in which SkyGuardian can be used for a variety of commercial and public services applications using its onboard sensors. Services featured in the Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) flight included inspections of hundreds of miles of rail, power line, communication and canal infrastructure, agriculture monitoring and topological surveys, as well as wildfire and flood monitoring.

The SIO demonstration activity is a partnership with the FAA, GA-ASI and other industry partners to conduct demonstrations of potential commercial applications using different sizes of UAVs. SIO aims to help accelerate the safe integration of UAVs for commercial applications into the national airspace by tackling key challenges.

The SkyGuardian flew for nine hours from its Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, California, to Yuma, Arizona, while being operated by a remote pilot based at Gray Butte. 

Data was collected from a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid (DAA) system to provide situational awareness of air traffic near the SkyGuardian. The DAA system includes a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II) used in manned aircraft that fly in civil airspace and an air-to-air, “Due Regard” Radar to detect and track nearby aircraft, which may not have active transponders. In the future, the DAA system will allow the remote pilot to “see” and navigate around airborne traffic just like an airborne pilot, according to

NASA agency plans to document best practices and lessons learned from the SIO activity and provide it to the UAV community to help facilitate industry-wide progress toward routine commercial unmanned aircraft operations.