History was made when Ausley Associates, Inc. recently led the first simultaneous unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and tethered hexacopter flight in a Federal Aviation Administration’s Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems research flight test. As another first, the demonstration included the first transfer of a tethered hexacopter from a ground site to a boat during a single flight test event.
This event was significant for the future of unmanned aviation because it was the first time the FAA approved a test flight for two simultaneously flying unmanned systems. The public/private partnership between Ausley and the Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division and the UAS Test Directorate (UASTD) at Webster Field, an annex of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, was key to the event’s success.
During the two-hour test flight, the Navy Aerostar sent a live video stream to the audience on the ground. Dragonfly Pictures, Inc. raised and lowered their tethered DP- 16 Horizon hexacopter (an unmanned helicopter having six rotors) from the ground site at Webster Field, and then transferred to a Coast Guard boat where it was raised and lowered while flying above the St. Mary’s River.
“Our line of sight is approximately 12 nautical miles due to the Earth’s curvature,” said Scott Sanders, Ausley’s chief technology officer. “The demonstration successfully showed how a tethered system can extend the sight range of another system, which can lower costs and increase safety in the National Airspace System. With the foundational test flight achieved, the next step is to create an integrated control system on the DP-16.”
Attendees included various players in the unmanned industry, including Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley, acting deputy assistant secretary of the navy (DASN), unmanned systems; Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA); Ro Bailey, director of the Alaska UAS test site; and many others with extensive experience in UAS development. Several attendees had the opportunity to speak about the use of UASs in their industries.
“We have used unmanned systems in Alaska during situations and in areas that are dangerous to humans,” said Bailey. “UASs give us the ability to research extremely high latitudes with extremely cold temperatures, to ignite oil during oil spills to prevent further damage, and to monitor sensitive wildlife with minimal disturbance. These conditions are not safe for humans, but thanks to UASs, we have collected a lot of data about unreachable areas in our state and we have protected our habitat from damage.”
“MAMA is working with Ausley to enhance medical offerings in Ghana through the use of unmanned systems,” said Brown. “The UASs, or humanitarian assistance vehicles (HAVs), will deliver medical supplies to areas affected by infectious disease outbreaks. Unmanned systems will be critical to improving the quality of life for the residents of Ghana.”
Ausley organized the event to demonstrate the importance of public/private partnerships in Maryland. As the only industry partner headquartered in Maryland to be selected as a teammate on the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), Ausley is bringing UASs and the data products they provide to a variety of commercial industries, including agriculture and infrastructure inspection. ASSURE, comprised of a dozen of the top UAS universities throughout the world and over 100 government and industry partners, is the team that operates the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
“Unmanned aircraft operations are in our DNA at Ausley,” said Ausley President Paul Ausley. “We have a long tradition of supporting advancements in unmanned aviation, and events such as this form the critical building blocks for the introduction of unmanned technology to the commercial sector. The event’s success demonstrates what can be achieved when a diverse set of stakeholders bring together innovative capabilities with vast applications to advance an industry. The test flight truly represents the pioneering attitude we all share toward bringing unmanned aircraft into commercial mainstream applications.”