Textron Systems expects FAA approval for commercial UAS flights

By Patrick C. Miller | October 30, 2014

Textron Systems expects to soon be flying its Aerosonde unmanned aerial vehicles in commercial airspace once the Federal Aviation Administration approves a pending certificate of authorization.

David Phillips, vice president for small- and medium-endurance UAS for the company’s unmanned systems branch, said a COA allowing UAS flights from the Virginia National Guard’s Blackstone Airfield at Ft. Pickett is in the fifth and final stage before being approved.

Currently, Textron Systems flies the Aerosonde primarily for military operations, but it has also conducted civilian flights overseas. Phillips said the company plans to expand into the U.S. commercial market when the FAA opens the national airspace to UAS operations.

“We have a schoolhouse down in Ft. Pickett where we train all of our operators. It’s basically our depot facility,” Phillips explained. “We test out new payloads down there. We fly every day at Fort Pickett.”

Although the company has been able to gain a great deal of experience flying the Aerosonde in restricted military airspace, Phillips said demonstrating the ability to fly in commercial airspace is crucial.

“It’s very important in building maturity and showing that—as we’ve always done—we’re coordinating with Richmond air traffic control,” he said. “It’s really all about gaining the commercial airspace, working with the FAA and flying in what the FAA has designated as commercial airspace.”

Phillips said Textron is working through the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership—which comprises Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland—and Virginia Tech to conduct flights in commercial airspace at one of the six FAA-designated UAS test sites in the country.

“We’ve worked it to where the COA will allow us a commercial slice of airspace in the Blackstone Army Airfield,” Phillips noted. “The COA will allow us the flying we’re doing every day to log hours in commercial airspace.”

Last week, Phillips gave a keynote presentation at The Commercial UAV Show in London entitled “UAS: A Game-Changer in Oil and Gas Security.” He said that while Textron Systems considers the oil and gas industry an area with great commercial potential for its Aerosonde UAS, the company is looking at a wide range of applications.