FAA Sets up Drone Tests

Research on domestic use of unmanned aerial systems will occur in six states. Farmers are fine with their under-400-foot limit.

Published on: Dec 31, 2013

It's possible that 2014 will become the Year of the Drone, which may be true on the farm. However, for wider use more work is needed. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday it had selected six test site operators to explore the potential for unmanned aerial system research across the country.

The agency reviewed 25 proposals from 24 states to come up with the six sites. And in selecting the locations, the agency reports it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk. The agency says these locaionts hit cross-country geographic and climatic diversity.

Here's a rundown of the six test site operators and the research they'll be conducting:

UP IN THE SKY: FAA is getting serious about testing to make it possible to operate unmanned aerial systems in the United States.
UP IN THE SKY: FAA is getting serious about testing to make it possible to operate unmanned aerial systems in the United States.

University of Alaska. The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations. 

State of Nevada. Nevada's project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant's research will also include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with NextGen. Nevada's selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.

New York's Griffiss International Airport. Griffiss International plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aid in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.

North Dakota Department of Commerce. North Dakota plans to develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. This applicant will also conduct human factors research. North Dakota's application was the only one to offer a test range in the Temperate (continental) climate zone and included a variety of different airspace which will benefit multiple users.

Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

You can learn more about the program and the future testing by visiting www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/.

Farmers are deploying more aerial systems to check crops in-season and determine other potential opportunities. They are limited to operating below 400 feet, which may not be high enough to gather all the information needed for crop management. This FAA work will lead to new operating rules and standards for unmanned aerial systems in the future.