Jack Blackhurst, Air Force Research Laboratory executive director, speaks as U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (left) and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine listen on April 26 at the announcement that the Federal Aviation Administration has granted a certificate of waiver or authorization to AFRL for beyond visual line of sight flights of unmanned aerial systems during an event at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. The project took the cooperation of several federal and state agencies to reach the approval stage. (U.S. Air Force photo/ R.J. Oriez)

SkyVision technology to advance unmanned aerial systems research

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory in partnership with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has achieved its goal of establishing a test site within one hour of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base from which AFRL researchers can fly unmanned aerial vehicles from beyond their visual line of sight.

AFRL and the Ohio Department of Transportation are now operating new technology known as SkyVision at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. The technology allows for safe, accurate and effective operation of unmanned aircraft systems by detecting and avoiding other aircraft while in flight using radar feeds from airports in Dayton and Columbus and from the long-range radar at London, Ohio.

SkyVision can be described as an air traffic control system for UAS.

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, Jack Blackhurst, executive director of AFRL, U.S. Reps. Warren Davidson and Mike Turner and other federal, state and local officials announced the new capability during an April 26 event at the airport in Springfield.

The availability of this technology led the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a certificate of waiver or authorization April 3 to AFRL so the lab can test defense-related UAS technologies without relying on ground-based spotters or chase aircraft.

According to FAA rules, unmanned aircraft systems may only fly within the uninterrupted line of sight of the person operating the UAS under most circumstances, but the newly issued COA allows AFRL and the Ohio Department of Transportation’s UAS Center in Clark County to use SkyVision to operate beyond the line of sight of the operator within a 200-square-mile area of unrestricted airspace near the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

Over time, the FAA will allow UAS test flights to take place at altitudes ranging from 1,000 feet above ground to 10,000 feet above sea level. Air traffic control experts from the UAS Center, which is part of ODOT’s DriveOhio Initiative, will operate SkyVision during each flight. The SkyVision detection system is housed within a mobile recreational vehicle unit envisioning the day when SkyVision will be able to travel to the point of need rather than being restricted to a specific location.

“The secretary of the Air Force just last week, released a new strategy for Air Force Science and Technology and objective three of this strategy talks about partnerships. Partnerships with government, our allies, universities, industries, and anyone who wants to work with us. This is a shining example of such a partnership,” said Blackhurst. “This isn’t a new way of doing business for the Air Force, but we’ll be placing even more emphasis on it.”

“As our country steps more and more into the unmanned age of flight, this technology is on the forefront of the aviation frontier,” said DeWine. “SkyVision will open doors to drone use that can be truly revolutionary.”

Col. Riley Pyles, senior materiel leader for the Aerospace Management Systems Division, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., described some of the history involving AFLCMC’s efforts on the SkyVision capability.

“Our role in developing the technology undergirding the SkyVision system goes back to a limited, fixed system we installed at Cannon Air Force Base several years ago to support MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper training operations,” said Pyles. “We have advanced the technology to the point the FAA now entrusts us and AFRL to use the system to fly any kind of UAS in totally unrestricted airspace. We look forward to continued partnership with AFRL to advance the technology even further, perhaps in a fully mobile version.”

With AFRL and AFLCMC fully engaged in an age of moving technology from the lab bench to the warfighter faster, SkyVision may prove to be a big step in UAV research.

“Much like the early days of manned flight, I think we are in a ‘golden age’ of rapid technological advancement. which today supports amazing new capabilities for unmanned aerial systems,” said Art Huber, AFRL deputy director of operations. “In this vein we see the SkyVision system as a remarkable achievement on the road to full integration of remotely piloted aircraft in the national airspace system.”

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