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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) has carried out a key flight of its SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

The flight, on 3rd April 2020, formed part of a joint flight demonstration with NASA.

The aircraft took off from GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, California.

From there, it flew through the National Airspace System (NAS) in Southern California towards Yuma, Arizona.

It was operated by a remote pilot based at Gray Butte.

To provide situational awareness of air traffic, it used the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS).

Long running partnership

“Our work with NASA is opening the eyes of regulators to the safety and utility of unmanned aircraft systems in the performance of certain tasks for public and commercial good,” said Linden Blue, CEO of GA-ASI.

GA-ASI and NASA have worked collaboratively since 2014 to prove the safety of flying large Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the NAS.

GA-ASI was selected to participate in NASA’s Systems Integration and Operationalisation (SIO) activity.

This includes flight demonstrations focusing on different types of UAS and their respective flight environments.

“NASA’s goal to help accelerate routine UAS operations into the national airspace has moved one step closer with this successful flight demo, said Mauricio Rivas.

Rivas is UAS integration in the NAS project manager at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

“Our efforts with General Atomics and our other SIO industry partners will help commercial UAS move closer towards certification,” he added.

The DAAS includes a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II).

This is used in manned aircraft that fly in civil airspace.

It also has an air-to-air, ‘Due Regard’ Radar to provide detection and tracking capability of any nearby aircraft which may not have active transponders.

Using the DAAS, the remote pilot was able to ‘see’ and navigate around airborne traffic like an airborne pilot.

Applications

GA-ASI demonstrated ways in which SkyGuardian can be used for a variety of commercial and public services applications, using its onboard sensors.

Services featured in the demo included inspections of:

  • hundreds of miles of rail and power lines
  • communication and canal infrastructure
  • agriculture monitoring and topological surveys
  • wildfire and flood monitoring.

“Our aircraft have already played important roles during crisis management events such as wildfire containment, Blue said.

“Our airborne sensors can see through thick smoke, enabling us to inform ground personnel about the locations of fire lines so they can deploy resources efficiently.”

“The SIO demonstration highlighted how the aircraft can be used for many other civilian and commercial missions,” he added.

GA-ASI’s technology partners for the demonstration include Honeywell (supplying the TCAS II for the DAAS), and Collins Aerospace for the Command and Non-Payload Communications (CNPC) datalink radios.

The latter is part of the Command and Control data-links system.

Sky Guardian is a next generation derivative of the MQ-9 Certifiable Predator B RPA.

An armed derivative has been selected to fulfil the UK’s ‘Protector’ armed RPA requirement.

It has also been selected by Australia and Belgium.

The type has also been marketed as the ‘Sea Guardian’ for land-based maritime security applications.

Jack Richardson

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