NASA Offering Its Site For Virginia Tech’s Unmanned Aircraft Testing


Lee Rannals for

NASA announced on Friday that the selection of six unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test sites could have an impact on its research at two of its facilities. The space agency said its Langley Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility could be working with Virginia Tech teams on the UAS research. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced earlier this week that Virginia Tech is planning to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risk areas. The researchers from this university may be using NASA for testing locations.

“Aeronautics researchers at NASA Langley are thrilled that the selection of unmanned aircraft system test sites has been made and that the country is moving forward to do the work needed to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace,” said David Hinton, deputy director for aeronautics research and technology at NASA Langley.

NASA already utilizes its Langley facility to study aviation safety using unmanned aircraft, including the Airborne Subscale Transport Aircraft Research (AirSTAR).

“With Langley’s years of research experience in airspace operations, unmanned systems, sense and avoid technology, autonomy and other technical areas we look forward to working with any of the teams selected to help advance and expand the safe use of unmanned aerial systems,” Hinton said.

Wallops Director Bill Wrobel said his facility is standing ready to help support related UAS safety testing in the region.

“Wallops’ location, instrumentation capabilities, restricted airspace, established safety program and past experience in flying unmanned aerials systems make it a valuable member of the team supporting this great endeavor,” Wrobel said.

The FAA stated that it selected six UAS test site operators to allow the agency to develop research findings and operational experiences to help ensure the safe integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace.

“While the selection of these test sites will not allow immediate access to the national airspace system for commercial and civil purposes, data and other information related to the operation of UAS that is generated by the six test site operators will help the FAA answer key research questions such as solutions for ‘sense and avoid,’ command and control, ground control station standards and human factors, airworthiness, lost link procedures and the interface with the air traffic control system,” the agency wrote in a statement.

“This data will help the FAA to develop regulations and operational procedures for future commercial and civil use of the NAS.”

FAA said its role in the UAS program is to help test site operators set up safe testing environment and to provide oversight that ensures sites operate under strict safety standards.

“Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.”