To the minds of most people, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, fall into two categories: military or recreational – and the latter aren’t seen that frequently. Outside of military zones, UAS don’t frequently appear buzzing around above us. That could change soon, however. The United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced that it is allocating $5.8 million in research, education and training grants to universities that comprise the FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).
The first round of ASSURE grants for Fiscal Year 2021 were awarded for the following areas of research:
Air Carrier Operations—Investigate and Identify the Key Differences Between Commercial Air Carrier Operations and Unmanned Transport Operations
This research will focus on large UAS and what is required to certify them for air carrier operations. Specific concerns include the actual feasibility and safety of UAS as passenger transport vehicles, as well as the possibility of autonomy.
UAS Cargo Operations—From Manned Cargo to UAS Cargo Operations: Future Trends, Performance, Reliability, and Safety Characteristics Towards Integration into the NAS
The focus for this research will be the feasibility of and demand for commercial UAS cargo operations. It will examine the anticipated needs of the FAA to support integration of UAS cargo operations, and look at how further autonomy could improve safety.
High-Bypass UAS Engine Ingestion Test
Traditional manned aircraft can be damaged by collisions with birds, which can be pulled into the engine and cause a serious hazard. Small UAS could also pose a potential threat for mid-air collisions and engine ingestion, but because they are so different from any other airborne foreign body, research is needed to determine the extent and type of the damage that they could cause.
Small UAS (sUAS) Mid-Air Collision (MAC) Likelihood
In addition to engine ingestion, other collisions with manned aircraft could be potentially dangerous. This research will focus on the probability of mid-air collisions and what parts of manned aircraft could be damaged.
Mitigating GPS and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Risks for UAS
The safety of small UAS is dependent on the reliable functioning of their navigation systems and Detect and Avoid operations. This research will look into ensuring that these systems do not fail and cause incorrect positioning and navigation.
Shielded UAS Operations—Detect and Avoid (DAA)
This research will identify risks to shielded UAS operations such as proximity to existing obstacles and determine whether shielded UAS operations can indeed be made safe. It will examine to what degree UAS Detect and Avoid requirements can be reduced and recommend UAS standoff distances from manned aircraft and ground obstacles.
Simulation should play a large role in this research, as SIMULIA’s tools have already been employed by the aerospace industry to address similar challenges. For example, Abaqus is currently used to assess and certify for bird strike damages on manned aircraft, and the technology could easily be adapted to account for strikes by UAS as well. Additionally, the Aerospace Systems Design Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology used the 3DEXPERIENCE platform as well as applications from SIMULIA, CATIA, ENOVIA and 3DVIA to virtually prototype UAS for a variety of missions.
As evidenced by the research grants listed above, much of the success of UAS depends on the proper functioning of their various sensors and navigation systems. SIMULIA’s tools are ideal for simulating the behavior of these complex systems, mitigating the risk and cost involved in testing physical prototypes. Other concerns will involve the noise levels caused by UAS in urban areas; full vehicle noise emissions from multiple sources can be predicted and improved using software such as PowerFLOW.
The most important factor in the development of UAS is safety; these vehicles need to be able to coexist with other air traffic as well as ground structures if they are ever going to be able to become commonly used for functions such as passenger travel and cargo transport. SIMULIA has allowed many traditional aircraft manufacturers to create safer vehicles while saving time, money and materials, and its tools can be used in the same way to ensure safer and more effective UAS.
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