What is the future of safe BVLOS operations?

Simulyze, Inc., based in Reston, Virginia, is paving the way for drones flying safely beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) with its Mission Insight platform.

The data-focused application processes, analyzes, and manages large streams of data from various sources in relation to BVLOS, and visualizes all aspects of multiple flight operations in a single, customized graphical interface.

This screenshot from Simulyze's Mission Insight application shows four aircraft flying in close proximity, including BVLOS operations; two of four UAS are shown operating outside of their respective flight volumes, and notification is sent to the violating operator as well to other operators in the area.
This screenshot from Simulyze’s Mission Insight application shows four aircraft flying in close proximity, including BVLOS operations; two of four UAS are shown operating outside of their respective flight volumes, and notification is sent to the violating operator as well to other operators in the area. Simulyze Photo
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“To effectively and safely do BVLOS, you need to plan; you need to coordinate UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] into the airspace,” said Simulyze’s CEO Kevin Gallagher. “Then during flight you need proactive situational awareness – so you know everything around you and what’s going on, so you can actively monitor flight.”

Planning and situational awareness are two aspects that have been incorporated into Mission Insight. The platform enables UAS operators to submit flight plans, monitor aircraft status and telemetry, activate flights, transmit aircraft position data to NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) research platform, and monitor other surveillance information. Simulyze believes data management is the key to UAS pilots flying safely BVLOS in the same airspace as other UAVs and manned aircraft.

The Mission Insight application is built on an advanced Operational Intelligence (OI) platform, which Gallagher said tunes in all the big-data problems. OI puts data sources together and supplies information in real time to drone operators so they can react. The platform uses real-time analytics to monitor potential conflicts (like weather) and alerts the operator when necessary.

With technology like Mission Insight moving forward and BVLOS test flights with NASA progressing, Gallagher believes BVLOS drone operations are on track to become a reality in the future. “There’s still a lot of work to do, but we envision it’s all going to be possible.”

“I envision that you’re going to be able to do long-haul kinds of operations, and there will be a coordinated traffic management system to help organize and enable all of that,” he added.

Simulyze has been participating in research efforts and test flights with NASA’s UTM program in North Dakota and Alaska. The test flights are currently at Technical Capability Level 3, which focuses on technologies for BVLOS. Simulyze has been supporting tests for detect and avoid technologies with drones, as well as communication and navigation.

“With that research, we think we’re going to get the rest of the work done to get [NASA’s UTM] built, and then the challenge is to get regulations out there in a timely fashion,” Gallagher said. Once completed, the UTM program will be handed off to the FAA, and the research will be used to inform rulemaking for drone operations.

Sky filled with drones
With technology like Mission Insight moving forward and BVLOS test flights with NASA progressing, Gallagher believes BVLOS drone operations are on track to become a reality in the future. Andy Dean Photo
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The company is also participating in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS Integrated Pilot Program, representing two of the 10 selected programs that will collect drone data involving flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight over the next 2.5 years.

Simulyze has built a UAS Service Supplier (USS) platform, which handles the traffic management and data processing behind the bigger concepts – such as dealing with contingency operations, and how those may affect other operations.

“Maybe I’ve got a long BVLOS operation, but I have a vehicle problem and I have to return to base. I might be returning along a path that I didn’t reserve for my operation, and now I have to coordinate that,” Gallagher explained.

“Our UAS Service Supplier will automatically figure out what airspace you need and coordinate that with the other operations so you can handle your vehicle emergency.”

And while BVLOS is a topic that may bring safety concerns to pilots or the public, Gallagher said with advanced technologies and testing, these out-of-sight flights may even be safer than some manned flights.

“But with anything there’s risk,” he added. “There are risks in driving cars; there are risks in flying airplanes; and there are risks in drones. . . . The more people understand it, the more they can become accustomed to it.”

However, BVLOS operations are still far out from becoming a reality, due to rigorous testing processes and future regulatory obstacles. “To fully enable simultaneous, complex BVLOS operations . . . we’re a little ways away,” said Gallagher. “We still have some research and exercises to go through, as well as some technology pieces, and then the regulatory pieces – which take some time to put in motion.”

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