The FAA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have partnered with CACI International to test a new prototype radio frequency system developed by CACI which could curb the number of drones flown near airports, in violation of rules for operation of these unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
The agency states that it receives more than 100 reports per month from pilots and others who spot UAS flying close to an airport or piloted aircraft.
“It’s become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),”—FAA
The agency has been raising awareness of the laws for operation of UAS and the risks they pose when operated near airports through a combination of public information campaigns and community outreach programs.
The FAA also released a B4UFLY app this January for iOS devices and is currently Beta-Testing an Android app.
The FAA requires UAS operators to register their systems by February 19, 2015.
The agency set up a dedicated website to make registration easier around the holiday season. Response was dramatic, even briefly overtaxing the website with traffic demand. Within the first 30 days after launching the registration site, the FAA reported, nearly 300,000 small unmanned aircraft were registered in the U.S..
But incidents of improper use and risks to aviation continue as the popularity of UAS grows.
There are safety concerns with that UAS might be ingested by aircraft engines with potentially deadly results, or otherwise interfere with the normal operation of piloted aircraft. The FAA and DHS also want to defend airports and aircraft against “bad actors” who would use UAS with malicious intent.
MOU on UAS
The FAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS in December to collaborate for “safe integration of UAS into the U.S. aviation system,” the agency states.
The aim is to reduce the risks of “rogue drones” by employing technology which can detect them in-flight and identify their owners.
The FAA partnered with DHS and CACI International under a “PathFinder agreement” to test CACI’s prototype SkyTracker system, which might serve as a deterrent to the improper operation of UAS near airports.
“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” said Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration. “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number one mission.”
DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology Robert Griffin said, “Working with the FAA, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate is proud to provide our expertise in testing and simulation of technologies to better address the safety and security challenges posed by unmanned aerial systems.”
Proof of Concept
CACI’s proof-of-concept system uses radio frequency sensors placed at strategic and prominent locations around an airport. When these sensors detect the radio frequencies unmanned aircraft use, the system triangulates the signals to pinpoint the location of both the UAS and its operator.
The FAA, DHS, and CACI tested the prototype SkyTracker system at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY) from January 25 to February 2. In all, 141 UAS operations were carried out over a period of five days. Of these, 72 UAS were tested while on the ground and 69 in flight.
The results, CACI Chief Operating Officer and President of U.S. Operations John Mengucci said, proved that the SkyTracker system performed as designed.
“SkyTracker successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators—all without interfering with airport ground operations,” Mengucci said. “We are very proud to partner with the FAA and DHS to help ensure national airspace safety from the escalating UAS threat.”
Over the coming months, engineers from the FAA, DHS, CACI and the University of Maryland (UMD) will work together to compile test data and will publish a final report this August.