Airspace Management is Next Challenge

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Detect and avoid systems are essential when performing the beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights required for drone deliveries. A new detect-and-avoid airspace management system could one day be used to enable drones to make critical deliveries during a pandemic or natural disaster. 

Deliveries could be anything from a virus testing kit to receiving a sample and flying to a lab or delivering routine medical supplies to rural locations or locations where people are social distancing.

Vigilant Aerospace Systems recently demonstrated its FlightHorizon system, tracking Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) specially-modified medical supply delivery drone as well as surrounding air traffic. 

The modified Nimbus VTOL V2 drone used in the test is equipped with a MaxQ temperature-controlled delivery payload. The flight was carried out by OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute, as reported by

The system successfully tracked both cooperative and noncooperative air traffic well beyond the UAS pilot’s visual line of sight.

One of the biggest challenges to using drones for these types of deliveries is the lack of safety criteria for BVLOS flights. Vigilant Aerospace CEO Kraettli Epperson said: “We know systems like this are being used outside the U.S., particularly in Africa and other places with much less complex airspace.” “The question is how do we design a system that can do it safely in the U.S. so everyone is comfortable with it. We’re hoping to see these types of deliveries happening in the U.S. in the short term, but we also know we have to collect the data. We’re doing flight tests now to advance the safety case and help provide the system needed for the FAA.”

The new system takes in data from multiple sources to track the drone and surrounding aircraft, including a radar transponder, a receiver and onboard telemetry from the drone’s flight control system. If it identifies a conflict or a loss of correct safety distance between the drone and other aircraft, the pilot on the ground is alerted. The system allows the pilot or autopilot to avoid potential conflict. Radar is the newest sensor to be added to the prototype, which is being used in multiple NASA and FAA R&D projects.