NASA has made the history books with a successful maiden voyage of its large UAV, the Ikhana aircraft.
NASA’s remotely-piloted Ikhana aircraft, based at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, successfully flew its first mission in the National Airspace System without a safety chase aircraft on Tuesday June 12.
NASA’s historic flight moves the United States one step closer to normalising unmanned aircraft operations in the airspace used by commercial and private pilots.
“This is a huge milestone for our unmanned aircraft systems integration in the National Airspace System project team,” said Ed Waggoner, NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program director.
“We worked closely with our Federal Aviation Administration colleagues for several months to ensure we met all their requirements to make this initial flight happen.”
Flights of large craft like Ikhana have previously required a safety chase aircraft to follow the unmanned aircraft as it travels through the same airspace used by commercial aircraft.
The FAA granted NASA special permission to conduct this flight. The certificate permitted Ikhana’s pilot to rely on the latest detect and avoid technology, enabling the remote pilot on the ground to see and avoid other aircraft during the flight.
NASA successfully worked with its industry partners to develop a standard for detect and avoid technologies, complied with the requirements of the FAA Technical Standard Orders, and garnered flight approval from the FAA.
The Ikhana aircraft was equipped with detect and avoid technologies, including an airborne radar developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, a Honeywell Traffic alert and collision avoidance system and a detect and avoid fusion tracker.