Detect and avoid: UAF’s drone program tests using radar to find manned aircraft

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 3:46 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ drone program is conducting testing to be able to fly unmanned and manned aircraft simultaneously. The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration (ACAUSI), is at Bradly Sky-Ranch Airport where they have three ground radars set up and one on a drone that is flying near the runway.

“We’re working on what’s called detect and avoid technology. And what we are testing is trying to find out, when there is a piece that is saying something is in the airspace, where it actually is. Kind of the truth in the data if you will,” said ACUASI Director of Operations Nick Adkins. “I think everybody knows that drones and unmanned aircraft, that’s a thing, it’s going to happen and that’s kind of the future.”

To fully use drones to their potential, Adkins said they have to be able to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft. The drone they are flying has a radar system on it and is using that to compare data with radar on the ground as well as GPS information from an airplane that is doing approaches at the runway.

Adkins said they can use the data they gather to give to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“We are trying to set up a test for what could be a detect and avoid technology to allow a drone into the airspace safely,” Adkins said.

ACUASI is one of the top drone research programs in the country and one of the few programs allowed to conduct these tests by the FAA.

“They’re one of a handful of universities that have a deep experience in the unmanned aircraft services,” Zach Peterson who works for Vigilant Aerospace based out of Oklahoma.

He is in Fairbanks to participate in the testing with ACUASI.

Levi Purdy is an engineering technician for ACUASI. He helps work on the drones as well as compile the data they gather. He said tests like these help them develop ways for drones to be able to detect and avoid airplanes.

“The testing here is how we bring Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) into integration with classical airspace, in a safe and controlled airspace,” Purdy said.

All of this research done by ACAUSI is helping keep Fairbanks in the forefront of drone technology said Adkins, “We could really lock onto that here in Fairbanks, Alaska. Like a Silicon Valley of drones, and then just start working on them and our children will have jobs in the future working on this new technology.”

He also said once drones and manned aircraft are able to share airspace, it will allow for safer and better ways to get cargo to remote villages.

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