Drone systems pass test at Griffiss

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The drone test site at Oneida County’s Griffiss International Airport in Rome has passed a milestone in its role as proving ground for commercializing unmanned aircraft by completing the second part of a federal test of how to integrate various systems for controlling and keeping track of multiple pilot-less aircraft over an urban area.

More than 40 people from 13 organizations took part, in-person and virtually, to complete phase two of the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aircraft traffic management program, according to NUAIR, or Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research, the organization that runs the test site at Griffiss.

The project concluded in November with three weeks of more than 100 live and simulated flights. The team reached a peak density of 18 aircraft, including 15 live and three simulations at once within airspace of two-tenths of a square mile over downtown Rome.

The overall goal is to prove the reliability and workability of an air traffic control system for unmanned aircraft much like that for airplanes with pilots on board. NUAIR manages the Griffiss test site and an airspace corridor for testing between Rome and Syracuse, which also includes a smaller segment near the former Oneida County airport at Oriskany designated for testing drones beyond the operator’s line of sight. It is one of seven such FAA-designated drone testing and proving sites nationwide, and the anchor of Oneida County’s efforts to build a drone industry at the former Air Force base, which also includes converting one former hangar into a weather-proof, controlled drone-testing venue.

The capabilities demonstrated included remote identification services that will allow observers to identify nearby unmanned craft, detect-and-avoid technology to prevent collisions, and public safety operations.

There are many separate control systems, much like different cell-phone services, according to NUAIR, and part of the project is to show that all can be integrated.

Four control-system companies were responsible for submitting flight plans, each depicted as a three-dimensional volume of airspace and time from the ground to maximum planned altitude. Each system’s operator could see other flight planes, and if a drone flew outside its area, pilots would be alerted. If the drone did not return to its flight plan, the alert level was raised.

Also tested was remote identification, a sort of license plate for drones, with multiple levels of access. At one level, anyone can see basic information about a drone in the area, and another allowed local law enforcement to see personally identifiable information much like a land vehicle license plate.

Sheriff’s departments from Oneida County, Albany County, and Washington County took part by flying their drones and testing the process for implementing restricted airspace. The process creates a no-fly zone alerting other drones to keep out so they do not interfere with emergencies like urgent delivery of medication or medical equipment.

At one point, a general aviation plane flown with a NUAIR pilot on board entered the testing area, prompting a warning being sent to a drone pilot to descend to avoid the pilot-aboard craft, as intended.

Four system suppliers submitted flight plans: AiRXOS, ANRA Technologies, AX Enterprize, and OneSky. Meanwhile, ResilienX provided systems to monitor the health and integrity of automated systems, and TruWeather Solutions provided micro weather forecasting for planning tests around inclement weather.

“The collaborative effort between all of our partners and participating organizations in order to safely complete the task at hand, in the middle of a pandemic, was astounding,” said Tony Basile, chief operating officer at NUAIR.

“The completion of the FAA’s UPP Phase Two testing at Griffiss International Airport is a monumental accomplishment that Oneida County and its partners should be very proud of,” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said in a news release from NUAIR.

“It was an honor that our UAS Test Site, which is one of only seven in the nation to begin with, was selected to lead this effort. Our region continues to set the bar for UAS traffic management and to lead the globe in drone innovation.”

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