FAA authorizes Oklahoma State University to fly drone swarms

By Oklahoma State University | March 28, 2019

Oklahoma State University's Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI) in Stillwater recently received a certificate of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to permit flights of a fixed-wing aircraft swarm within the national airspace, making it the first in the country to receive this authorization.

This flight authorization will permit a single pilot, along with visual observers for safety considerations, to operate a swarm of up to 20 fixed-wing aircraft. The unique configuration developed by OSU researchers creates a “swarm of swarms” where groups of unmanned aircraft fly within smaller flocks as part of a larger swarm, communicating with a local group leader which then coordinates flights with the overall swarm formation.

This research into swarming unmanned aircraft will advance unmanned aircraft capabilities into safe operation of autonomous vehicles within the national airspace and will find direct application into ongoing OSU research in weather, environmental and infrastructure monitoring, agriculture, security, and airspace operations. 

“Swarms are the future of autonomous flight,” said Jamey Jacob, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at OSU.  “This unique first-of-its-kind approval just takes us one step closer to demonstrating for the first time the safe and efficient autonomous flight that will be common place in years to come.” 

“It is incredible to be a part of such groundbreaking research as OSU paves the way ahead for expanded autonomous operations,” said Gary Ambrose, Research Development Manager and Adjunct Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at OSU. “This step opens the door for many of our research partners and sponsors; as we expand their UAS operability and capability.”