Lockheed Martin conducts UAS traffic management demonstration

By Patrick C. Miller | December 03, 2015

A successful demonstration last month of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) traffic management technology developed by the Lockheed Martin Corp. showed that integrating UAS into the national airspace (NAS) might not be as expensive or labor intensive as previously thought.

Making use of the web-based flight reporting and pilot briefing tools the company has developed for general aviation, Lockheed Martin demonstrated how unplanned UAS events—also known as exceptions—can be safely handled by air traffic control (ATC) and UAS ground control stations.

For the demonstration conducted Nov. 18 at the Griffiss International Airport, Rome, New York, Lockheed Martin paired its Stalker XE UAS with an unmanned Kaman Corp. K-MAX cargo helicopter. The Stalker was used to spot and pinpoint the location of a fire while the K-MAX picked up water from a nearby pond and dropped it on the fire.

The pond was purposely located just outside the K-MAX’s designated UAS operations area to trigger an exception alert. When the helicopter left the area to pick up water, the alert was sent to the UAS ground control station and air traffic controllers.

As with manned aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system determines if the UAS is on a conflicting course with another aircraft, enabling an air traffic controller to help steer the manned aircraft away from the UAS.

“Everything worked exactly as it was supposed to,” said Mike Glasgow, chief architect of Lockheed Martin Flight Services. “We were able to follow the aircraft on the air traffic control system. The alerts all worked properly and the mission worked properly. The integration with the ground control station was straightforward.”

Glasgow believes that this is a significant development in UAS traffic management because it means that integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace can be accomplished at a lower cost and with less manpower.

“Using web services is a viable mechanism and an easy one when you have a ground control station that is Internet capable,” he explained. “There’s a low-obstacle path toward getting integration of those aircraft into the NAS. It was not at all challenging to do that integration.”

According to Glasgow, Lockheed’ Martin’s work with UAS traffic management is an extension of what it has been doing in general aviation the past three years which enables pilots to file flight plans online and provide them with information in an easy-to-use graphical format. Incorporating UAS information into the system doesn’t require the development of a large or expensive new system, he said.

“Web services allowed us to do it with our existing flight services information, and there are no people in the loop until there’s actually a problem,” Glasgow said. “When another aircraft is in conflict, at that point you need to bring a person into the loop.

The Lockheed Martin system not only improves situational awareness for both ATC and manned aircraft, but also with the UAS operator in the ground control station, he noted.

UAS exceptions should not be a common occurrence. However, Glasgow said that the ability to safely handle them is a key aspect of developing a safe and reliable traffic management system that enables the integration of UAS into the national airspace.

“We view this as one of the building blocks dealing with these exceptions that allows the overall safe-case to be closed,” he said. “It gives a very clear path for how that can be handled.”


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