Armed with COA, NJIT plans Atlantic Ocean UAV test

By Emily Aasand | November 26, 2014

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is preparing to conduct its first unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flight over the Atlantic Ocean to test the feasibility of safely integrating drones into the public airspace and to assess the research and operational capabilities of several data-collecting sensors aboard the craft.

The flights will include weather sensors to gather information on atmospheric conditions and devices with mapping, communications relay, and high-definition video capabilities, NJIT said.

On May 8, 2014, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration awarded NJIT its first certificate of authorization (COA) which makes the university the first public institution in the state to be granted permission to test unmanned aircraft systems.

“This [COA] process was a learning experience for me and NJIT,” said Michael Chumer, director of the crisis communications center and of UAS applied research at NJIT. “As we proceeded through the application, we learned a lot about what data is required to safely integrate UAS technology within the national airspace.”

 “NJIT’s mission is to enhance the country’s homeland security and emergency management capabilities. A primary goal is to develop drone-borne weather sensors that can predict where a major storm will make landfall as many as two days before existing technology now permits,” the university said.

The flight, which is projected for mid-December, will take off from an airstrip at the U.S. Coast Guard training center in Cape May, New Jersey, and travel up to one nautical mile out over the ocean at a height not to exceed 3,000 feet, remaining airborne for up to one hour.

“The ground-based pilot will be in communication during the flight. After the flight, the team will assess the drone’s operational performance as well as its success in gathering data, which NJIT will share with the FAA and emergency management agencies,” the university said.

The unmanned vehicle being used is the RS-16 integrated with the Applanix Direct Mapping Solution created by American Aerospace Advisors Inc. The RS-16 has roughly a 13 foot wingspan, with max gross takeoff weight of 85 pounds. The UAS has a catapult launch and lands on Kelvar skids, according to Chumer.

“The testing, evaluation, and applied research that NJIT plans to accomplish will be integrated into the nation’s overall test site research plan,” said Chumer. “The UAS has the potential to strengthen our nation in a myriad of ways and we at NJIT will call upon our considerable technical skills to hasten this process along.”

AAAI will operate the drones for NJIT during the flight.

“Our agreement with AAAI is that we would lease the UAS during the operations and he would get the pilots and crews necessary to be in command,” said Chumer.

NJIT is also a partner in the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership along with Virginia Tech, which was designated as one of six test sites authorized to develop procedures to ensure the safe integration of drones into national airspace.