NASA successfully flew 22 drones during a simultaneous testing at FAA test sites across the country.
The demonstration, which is the first and largest ever launched, is meant to assess NASA's Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) research platform used in rural operations.
"After so much preparation and practice, it was very rewarding to see all test sites have success with weather, platforms and connectivity," said Director of Operations at NUAIR Tony Basile and manager at New York test site."
The three-hour test involved a total of 24 drones, of which 22 were flying simultaneously at one point. NASA's UTM research platform checked for conflicts during the flight, gave approval or rejections to flight plans and delivered notifications on constraints to the users. Likewise, engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center were tasked with operations and system load monitoring as well as qualitative feedback gathering in order to identify capability gaps to further refine the UTM research.
The test also required hours of coordination and logistics to become successful. Weather conditions, such as strong winds and rain forecasts, also became a challenge since drones are not designed to fly in rain or high winds.
Additionally, NASA Ames launched dozens of virtual aircraft within the same airspace, allowing an interesting mix of live flights and virtual flights that can provide more insight to future demonstrations.
"We enjoyed working with the NASA UTM team to explore UAS air traffic management concepts through the UTM research platform," said Richard C. Kelley, chief engineer at the Nevada Advance Autonomous Systems Innovation Center.
Kelley also lauded how the software's performance provided much-needed data and generated open questions that address creating a safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.
UTM research is still at a nascent stage. The recent testing involved its Technical Capability on the first level, which addressed UAS operations within line-of-site in the rural areas. This includes potentially using the operations for fire fighting, agriculture and power line monitoring.