FAA, industry, and academia partner on UAS sense-and-avoid avionics flight tests

PHOENIX. Engineers and officials at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Northrop Grumman, and ACSS, an L3 and Thales Company in Phoenix, conducted a series of flight tests of a sense-and-avoid avionics system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to support the safe and efficient integration of UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Mar 30th, 2017
FAA, industry, and academia partner on UAS sense-and-avoid avionics flight tests
FAA, industry, and academia partner on UAS sense-and-avoid avionics flight tests

PHOENIX.Engineers and officials at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Northrop Grumman, and ACSS, an L3 and Thales Company in Phoenix, conducted a series of flight tests of a sense-and-avoid avionics system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to support the safe and efficient integration of UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS).

The goal of the flight tests was to help the FAA TCAS Program Office to advance the Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS), a successor to the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Warning System (TCAS), to support the objectives of its Next-Generation Air Transportation System Program (NextGen). All ACAS X variants detect conflicts with intruder aircraft, issue Resolution Advisories, and coordinate maneuvers with other collision avoidance systems.

The flight tests led by Northrop Grumman were conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. Participating were FAA staff from federally funded research and development centers, including: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which developed the algorithms and software for ACAS Xu.

Lincoln Laboratory and APL provided the ACAS Xu software to ACSS and supported the flight tests with overall system expertise. ACSS integrated and tested the ACAS Xu software and provided the hardware to host ACAS Xu, leveraging its commercial T³CAS product, which includes TCAS, transponder, and Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS) functions.

The T³CAS, with ACAS Xu Version 2 software, was integrated on the Northrop Grumman Firebird Demonstrator, an optionally piloted aircraft. Both ACSS and Northrop Grumman also provided manned aircraft that flew predetermined collision encounter geometries with the Firebird Demonstrator.

“The flight tests collected data necessary to validate simulation models and help inform the continued development of ACAS Xu,” said Greg Boerwinkle, ACSS UAS Program Manager. “This is a critical capability to advance the economic viability and safety aspects of large UAS operations. The capabilities under development for large UASs to detect and avoid collisions will be substantially better than the ability of a pilot to see with the human eye and avoid collisions.”

ACAS Xa and Xo are intended for current TCAS users, and ACAS Xu is designed for UAS and other vehicles with new surveillance technologies and different performance characteristics.

As part of the ACAS Xu development, the FAA is also working with the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) on international safety standards.

The T³CAS traffic management computer is the next generation integrated communication and surveillance system from ACSS, combining multiple products into a single computer.The T³CAS features TCAS II with Change 7.1 software, performance-based Class A TAWS and Mode S Transponder updated for DO-260B with full ADS-B IN/OUT capability. The T³CAS provides operators with proven performance and reliability of TCAS, TAWS, Mode S and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) functions with the benefits of reduced weight, size, power consumption, and costs that comes from an integrated platform.

T³CAS is a single LRU with the flexibility to host any combination of these functions:

  • Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)
  • Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS)
  • Mode S Transponder
  • Airborne Traffic Situation Awareness (ATSA) / SafeRoute® ADS-B In applications

T³CAS uses an integrated RF transceiver module for the TCAS and Mode S functions. As a result, only a single set of antennas is required and the aircraft antenna count and cabling is reduced. The T3CAS platform delivers full functionality in both 6- and 4-MCU sizes, and utilizing the existing TCAS tray and connectors.

Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems (ACSS), 70 percent owned by L3 and 30 percent owned by Thales, is a joint venture managed by L3’s Aviation Products sector. ACSS provides design and manufacture of products for all aircraft and helicopter segments, and supports products for air transport and regional airlines, business aviation, and helicopter, general aviation and military aircraft operators.

ACSS produces avionics systems that increase safety, situational awareness and efficiency for commercial and military flight operators. More than 75,000 ACSS products are operating in commercial, corporate and military aircraft. Thales Avionics is the exclusive air transport sales and support agent of ACSS products.

Thales is a global technology company serving the aerospace, transport, defense, and security markets. With 62,000 employees in 56 countries, Thales reported sales of €14 billion in 2015. With over 22,000 engineers and researchers, Thales has a unique capability to design and deploy equipment, systems, and services to meet the most complex security requirements.

Headquartered in New York City, L3 Technologies employs approximately 38,000 people worldwide and is a leading provider of a broad range of communication, electronic and sensor systems used on military, homeland security and commercial platforms. L3 is also a prime contractor in aerospace systems, security and detection systems, and pilot training. The company reported 2016 sales of $10.5 billion.

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