NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center recently completed flight evaluations of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) aircraft tracking system adapted for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) aboard the center's modified MQ-9 Predator B named Ikhana.
ADS-B is an aircraft tracking technology that all aircraft operating in certain U.S. airspace must adopt by January 2020 in order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
NASA Dryden first flew the Ikhana unmanned aircraft with an ADS-B device on March 15. That was the first time an unmanned aircraft as large as the MQ-9 had flown equipped with ADS-B. The initial flights checked out the system's capabilities in the "out" or transmit mode, while the recently concluded flights evaluated the system's "in" or receive data mode and its ability to downlink information to the ground control station.
The ADS-B test missions also were the first flights of hardware for the NASA Aeronautics research project known as UAS in the NAS, short for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System.
These flights have included the project team's first use of their Live Virtual Constructive-Distributed Environment, or LVC-DE for short. The LVC-DE system generates simulated air traffic, representing radar and ADS-B-derived surveillance tracks, to test advanced airspace integration concepts, technologies and procedures efficiently and safely. The system incorporates flight performance data from real aircraft, like the Ikhana UAS and other manned and unmanned aircraft, to provide realism and demonstrate actual system capabilities.
The LVC-DE system also keeps humans in the loop, specifically air traffic controllers and pilots, for a fully integrated virtual and real-world simulation experience.
"For a prototype system, the LVC-DE worked well processing and displaying live Ikhana data, live ADS-B "in" traffic reports received by the on-board ADS-B unit and simulated air traffic generated at Ames Research Center," said Sam Kim, deputy project manager of integrated test and evaluation for the UAS in the NAS project. "When testing complex airspace integration technologies and procedures involving multiple aircraft, it's much more practical and safer to simulate a majority of the aircraft while employing a minimum number of real aircraft."
"Through the LVC environment, we anticipate developing distributed nodes with our domestic and international partners that will allow low-cost options to expand the flight and simulation asset base, like linking UAS simulators at the FAA Technical Center, or live aircraft flown by partners," added Chuck Johnson, project manager for the UAS in the NAS project.
The flights were conducted within Dryden's Western Aeronautical Test Range, which is part of the restricted military flight-test ranges over Edwards Air Force Base and Southern California's high desert.
Gray Creech, Public Affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center