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Together with the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR) Diehl and HENSOLDT carried out flight tests for a new sensor system to increase air safety in July and August. The objective is to prevent aircraft collisions. In the future, the sensors tested for detecting and avoiding collisions (Sense & Avoid) could enable the approval and operation of unmanned aircraft systems (drones) in German airspace for the first time.

A flight test campaign carried out covering 30 hours of flight operations over a period of three weeks at the Braunschweig research airport demonstrated that modern sensors can replace the pilot’s eye.

For the tests, the DLR’s Do 228 research aircraft was equipped with a “dual-mode sensor suite” manufactured by Diehl and HENSOLDT, consisting of radar and electro-optical sensors thus combining the optical signals of special cameras with radar signals. In addition to DLR’s Do 228, another aircraft was used for the tests. This aircraft executed extensive manoeuvres in and from different directions and heights and was to be detected by the sensor system of the Do 228. Even at long distances the sensor suite detected the second aircraft reliably and accurately, tracked it precisely and generated warnings of a potential collision well in time.

The electro-optical module of Diehl consists of a series of high-resolution cameras which scan the forward and side areas of the aircraft. It could be demonstrated that this system can replace the pilot’s view and significantly increase the accuracy of the overall system. The module is lightweight and compact and can be flexibly modified to meet the requirements of different platforms and operators.

The “Detect-and-Avoid” radar from HENSOLDT implements the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) technology allowing several detection tasks to be performed simultaneously and objects to be detected extremely fast. Thanks to the radar technology, the flight direction of objects in one’s own flight path can be measured precisely and timely warning of potential collisions can be generated. With its unique detection properties, the multi-functional radar is suitable for military as well as civilian drones, e.g., for cargo delivery. In addition, the sensor provides all functions of a weather radar.

According to the two companies, the combination of these two technologies (dual-mode sensor system) is suitable for unmanned aerial vehicles of different sizes and provides excellent detection properties.

Juergen Hensel