Sagetech, Arcturus demonstrate joint manned, unmanned aircraft operations using COTS NextGen ADS-B tracking


WHITE SALMON, Wash., 7 Nov. 2012. Engineers and executives from Sagetech, an avionics company in White Salmon, Wash., and Arcturus, an unmanned aircraft manufacturer in Rohnert Park, Calif., demonstrated the safe, joint operation of manned and unmanned aircraft using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) NextGen Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) technologies at McMillan Airfield in Camp Roberts, Calif.

Sagetech’s COTS ADS-B equipment facilitated joint operations between an Arcturus unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a manned Cirrus aircraft, providing operators and pilots with in-flight tracking of all participating aircraft.

During the demonstration, Arcturus UAV operators operated a T-20 UAV outfitted with a Sagetech XPST Mode S ADS-B Out Transponder from McMillan Airfield. The T-20 UAV was controlled by radio-link with a Cloud Cap Piccolo Autopilot. The transponder periodically (twice per second, more often and timely than what radar itself can provide) broadcast the flight position of the Arcturus T-20 UAV using the ADS-B Out system protocol. Additionally, the transponder provided replies (squawk code and Mode-C altitude reports) to ATC radar interrogations. The squawk code and operation of the Sagetech XPS-TR transponder was controlled via the Piccolo autopilot ground station.

T-20 Relevant Equipment

  • Non-certified Cloud Cap Piccolo Autopilot
  • Non-certified Novatel GPS receiver provides ADS-B position
  • Non-certified, compliant XPS-TR Transponder (presently undergoing TSO certification)
  • Squitters ADS-B Out position reports
  • Replies to SSR interrogations
  • Uses non-certified, compliant altitude encoder for Mode C replies (presently undergoing TSO certification)

Arcturus T-20 UAV (unmanned air vehicle)

  • Wingspan: 17.5 feet
  • Gross Takeoff Weight: 175 lbs.
  • Aircrew for Demonstration: N/A
  • Ground Crew location: McMillan Airfield, Camp Roberts, CA

Operated from McMillan Airfield inside Restricted Airspace R-2504 at 2,500’ MSL and belowhe Arcturus UAV carried a Sagetech Mode S ADS-B Out Transponder, whereas the manned Cirrus aircraft carried a Sagetech Mode S ADS-B Out Transponder with integrated GPS Receiver and a Sagetech Clarity ADS-B Receiver. “This small device receives the signals from the unmanned and manned aircraft; it connects to the [Apple] iPad via Wi-Fi link and plots both aircraft on the map,” says a representative.


Inexpensive COTS equipment is used to track aircraft during joint manned/unmanned aircraft operations.

Sagetech and Arcturus set out to demonstrate how the combination of a new FAA NextGen ADS-B system and off-the-shelf hardware and software can enable manned and unmanned aircraft to operate in the same airspace.

One goal of the demonstration was “to show that joint manned/unmanned aircraft operations are feasible now, in circumstances where use of this equipment kit can be assured. Examples are aircraft firefighting operations within TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) controlled airspace and military range operations,” continues the representative.

Aircraft used Sagetech XP transponders to broadcast ADS-B position messages, which were received by Sagetech Clarity ADS-B receivers. The receivers relay messages via Wi-Fi link to an iPad for display with Hilton Software’s WingX electronic flight bag (EFB) app.

The demonstration employed low-cost COTS equipment of a type readily available as a result of ADS-B system deployment coupled with a surge in popularity among general aviation (GA) pilots of inexpensive receivers that work with an iPad.

Aircraft transmit location using the NextGen ADS-B system via Sagetech Transponders. Sagetech Clarity ADS-B Receivers working with iPads receive location signals and display aircraft as icons overlaid on aviation charts. Pilots, UAV operators, and mobile ground personnel maintain awareness of real-time aircraft positions and flight paths.

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