General Atomics successfully tests UAS sense-and-avoid system

By Patrick C. Miller | December 04, 2014

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. has tested a proof-of-concept sense-and-avoid system (SAA), the first successful test of the Federal Aviation Administration’s airborne collision avoidance system for unmanned aircraft.

The test was conducted in collaboration with the FAA and Honeywell. General Atomics also performed the first flight tests of its Due Regard Radar (DRR), a pre-production air-to-air radar for SAA and the first radar designed for remotely piloted aircraft (RPA).

“Our latest sense and avoid test represents a major step forward for integrating RPA safely into domestic and international airspace,” said Frank Pace, General Atomics president of aircraft systems. “Our proof-of-concept SAA system is now functional and ready for extensive flight testing with the FAA, NASA and our industry partners.”

The General Atomics SAA system includes automatic collision avoidance and a sensor fusion capability designed to provide the pilot on the ground with a clear picture of the traffic around the aircraft.

The three-day functional flight test occurred in September at General Atomics’ Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, California, using a Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The test proved the functionality of the FAA’s system during collision avoidance maneuvers.  

According to General Atomics, automatically executing collision avoidance maneuvers enables the Predator to maintain safety in the national airspace system if the command-and-control data link is lost. The FAA’s system is interoperable and backwards compatible with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) II used worldwide on most commercial transport aircraft.

General Atomics is also working with NASA to integrate the proof-of-concept SAA system aboard NASA’s Ikhana Predator B research UAV. This aircraft will serve as the primary test aircraft in a SAA flight test scheduled for NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The testing will evaluate the SAA system in a variety of collision avoidance and self-separation encounters. It will include a sensor fusion algorithm developed by Honeywell.

DRR testing has also been occurring at various locations across Southern California this year onboard a Beechcraft King Air to detect and track multiple test aircraft across the full Field-of-Regard, including general aviation aircraft beyond 10 miles. The tests are the first in an extensive flight test campaign designed for the DRR engineering development model and to make it ready for flight testing with the Predator B.