On August 16th General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a MQ-9B SkyGuardian™ Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., through National Airspace, to its Gray Butte Flight Operations facility near Palmdale, Calif. The MQ-9B is a STANAG 4671 (NATO airworthiness standard for Unmanned Aircraft Systems)-compliant version of the Predator® B product line. The 275 mile trip lasted approximately one hour, 45 minutes and required FAA approval to fly through various classes of non-restricted airspace.
FAA drone certification needs sense and avoid and all weather flight
The MQ-9B flight through multiple classes of Non-Segregated Airspace represents another step towards certification. This flight is another milestone in our progression towards delivering an RPA system that meets NATO airworthiness requirements for UAS.
GA officials are aiming to have the MQ-9B receive FAA certification for free flight in 2025. FAA guidelines for air-worthiness mandate certain physical characteristics: the plane must be able to fly in all sorts of weather and survive a direct lightning strike.
They created a new skin with a thin mesh of copper just beneath the surface, creating a flying Faraday cage that can keep high electric charges away from sensitive electronics. To fight ice, the wings will have a unique and brand-new electro-expulsive de-icing system.
A much bigger obstacle in the FAA guidelines is the see-and-avoid clause, which mandates that a plane’s pilot must be able to see forward and take evasive action to avoid hitting another plane.
The MQ-9B, like all General Atomics aircraft, requires at least one human operator who monitors what’s going on via a 50mbps video link. But a satellite video link to a human operator on the ground doesn’t satisfy the see-and-avoid standard. The next iteration of the FAA guidelines will turn see-and-avoid to something more like sense-and-avoid. General Atomics is getting ready for that chance, testing a radar system that detects oncoming aircraft and then tells the plane to move without waiting for the human operator. Like a self-driving car, the plane is supposed to be able to avoid collisions on its own.
Extended range drone