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Army Demonstrates Sense and Avoid for UAS in the National Airspace

In a significant milestone toward the integration of unmanned aerial system (UAS) flight operations into the National Airspace System (NAS), the U.S. Army successfully validated the technology and capabilities of the Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) System in a series of demonstrations held at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah in June.

GBSAA provides a mitigation or alternate means of compliance to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory requirements regarding the ability to see and avoid other aircraft and allow for integration of UAS into the NAS.

conflict scenario

Conducting one of the vignettes that showcased the next upgrade to the Army’s maneuver algorithms. Two live Shadows are being flown toward each other, one with the GBSAA system and one without. U.S. Army photo

The Product Directorate for Unmanned Systems Airspace Integration (USAIC), part of the UAS Project Office within the Program Executive Office for Aviation, conducted the formal GBSAA demonstration during the weeks of June 4-8 and June 18-22 with a series of vignettes designed to validate the design and functionality of the Army’s Sense and Avoid technology.

The demonstration came approximately 14 months after the first-ever UAS flight within the NAS, utilizing an FAA approved GBSAA prototype system. That flight was conducted on April 27, 2011 at El Mirage, Calif.

“The demonstration that we recently had was the culmination of a lot of years of work,” offered Viva Austin, product director in the Army’s USAIC. “It was a very successful demonstration of a capability that we’ve been working on for a long time. Our goal has been to do something that is very safe. We have worked very hard to make sure that we are doing it the right way. And we are ready to begin the certification process in order to be fielding in March 2014.”

Those fieldings are slated for the training locations for the Army’s Gray Eagle UAS, including: Ft. Hood, Texas; Ft. Riley, Kan.; Ft. Stewart, Ga.; Ft. Campbell, Ky.; and Ft. Bragg, N.C.

Specific objectives of the recent Dugway demonstration included:

  • Bringing GBSAA “Phase 2” technology out of the laboratory and applying it to actual flight operations;
  • Demonstrating the functionality/adaptability of the Army GBSAA system by conducting operations targeting multiple service sites including Dugway Proving Grounds, Cherry Point (Marine Corps Air Station), Ft. Drum (Air National Guard), Ft. Stewart (Army), and “virtual” flight operations in the NAS surrounding Salt Lake City, Utah and Boston, Mass.;
  • Highlighting the Open Architecture/Plug and Play functionality of the Army GBSAA System;
  • Demonstrating the ability to fuse data from 3-D Lightweight Surveillance Target Acquisition Radars (LSTAR) V3 (from SRC Tech) and Air Traffic Control (ASR-9) radar in real time, for use in a GBSAA System;
  • Illustrating the significant capabilities and benefits of the Army test bed at Dugway Proving Ground, and;
  • Early validation of a common GBSAA requirements set representing multiple services.

“The demonstration was a total success,” Austin reiterated. “Not only were we able to meet or exceed every objective established for the demonstration by flying the system against numerous different DoD concepts and locations, but safely flying a synthetic UAS downtown in Salt Lake City against live traffic, and then against recorded Boston airspace data – that really allowed us to validate that the Phase 2 technology we are fielding to Gray Eagle sites works and is almost ready to go prime time. Both the GBSAA test bed and the full system/concept demonstration turned out to be more successful than we could have hoped for.”

clear scenario

Successful detection and maneuver of the Shadow UAS. The GBSAA system alerted the Ground Based Sense and Avoid System Operator (GBO) at the appropriate time and provided a recommended maneuver which was safely used to avoid the other aircraft. The two aircraft maintained separation as expected and no anomalies occurred. The screen shown is a “concept demo” and was one of the concept display screens used to test the system.

Asked to outline that certification process between now and March 2014, she offered, “We do keep the FAA in the loop and work with them. If you are familiar with the system we had at El Mirage, we worked very closely with them on that, so we have a really good idea of what it is going to take to get the system approved through them [the FAA]. And based on the lessons that we learned from that we’ve gone back and designed this system from the ground up to meet those objectives.”

“Right now what we’ve been doing is working with our Army air worthiness folks out of the Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED),” she added. “We’ve worked closely with them on what the concept looks like; what the architecture of the system looks like; and design assurance levels – from software to hardware. So we’ve developed the system and said, ‘Now we’ve got to make sure it works.’ And the demonstration showed that it does. It does everything we want it to do. So now we go through with AED and break apart each little piece to make sure they approve of the way that’s done. Then we develop artifacts and say, ‘You agree with the overall architecture and the concept. Now these artifacts prove that it operates as we said it would – safely. Then we go to the FAA and get it approved through them. Now we will coordinate with the FAA before that, but not in asking for approval – just to keep them in the loop on what we’re doing.”

“Technically this system was the prototype,” Austin concluded. “We proved that it is capable of doing all that we thought it would. And now we are ready to go forward and begin the certification process of getting this system safely integrated into the National Airspace.”


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...