Government agencies partner with industry to detect, identify rogue unmanned aircraft

WASHINGTON, 19 Feb. 2016. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials receive more than 100 reports each month from pilots and others who spot what appears to be an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying close to an airport or a manned airplane. It has become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Government agencies partner with industry to detect, identify rogue unmanned aircraft
Government agencies partner with industry to detect, identify rogue unmanned aircraft

WASHINGTON, 19 Feb. 2016. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials receive more than 100 reports each month from pilots and others who spot what appears to be an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying close to an airport or a manned airplane. It has become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Government agencies partner with industry to detect, identify rogue unmanned aircraftGovernment agencies partner with industry to detect, identify rogue unmanned aircraft

FAA personnel continue community outreach and education efforts, as well as work to detect and identify these “rogue drones” and their operators. Officials at the FAA and DHS are partnering with CACI International in Arlington, Virginia, to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports. The main goal of the partnership is to explore procedures and processes for deploying and operating detection technologies safely in and around commercial airports.

“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” explains Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA senior advisor on UAS integration. “This research is aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number one mission.”

"Working with the FAA, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate is proud to provide our expertise in testing and simulation of technologies to better address the safety and security challenges posed by unmanned aerial systems,” adds DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology Robert Griffin.

CACI’s proof-of-concept system employs radio-frequency sensors at strategic locations around an airport in high, prominent locations. When the sensors detect frequencies unmanned aircraft typically use, it triangulates the signals and determines the location of both the UAS and the operator.

“The results of testing under our PathFinder agreement with the FAA at Atlantic City International Airport demonstrate that CACI’s proprietary system – SkyTracker – performed as designed,” says CACI Chief Operating Officer and President of U.S. Operations John Mengucci. “SkyTracker successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators – all without interfering with airport ground operations. We are very proud to partner with the FAA and DHS to help ensure national airspace safety from the escalating UAS threat.”

FAA and DHS officials evaluated the CACI system at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), marking the first UAS detection research in a commercial airport environment, between 25 January 2016 and 2 February 2016. A total of 141 operations were executed over five days – 72 with a UAS on the ground and 69 with different small UAS in flight.

Shutterstock Drone Danger

In the coming months, engineers from the FAA, DHS, CACI, and the University of Maryland (UMD), a partner in the evaluation, will work together to compile the data for a final report by August 2016.

Research on UAS detection systems may go beyond addressing the FAA’s concerns with the safety of UAS in the nation’s airspace. The effort also may contribute to keeping the skies safe from “bad actors” who want to use unmanned aircraft for malicious purposes. To that end, the agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS in December to collaborate on the safe integration of UAS into the U.S. aviation system.

UAS images courtesy Shutterstock.


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