Sky-Futures, a leader in drone-based technology, and Bristow Group successfully conducted their first interoperability test between a helicopter and an unmanned aircraft at Galliano, Louisiana, achieving a major milestone in the companies’ joint efforts to implement a complementary service to clients in the Americas Region. The collaborative effort, which was the result of comprehensive planning and safety analysis, was a critical first step in the evolution of a process proving that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and manned helicopters can operate safely in the same airspace.
For the 20-minute exercise, the Bristow Sikorsky S-92 hovered 500 feet above ground, while the UAS flew towards the helicopter, maintaining a horizontal distance of 200 feet away from the aircraft. The Sky-Futures unmanned aircraft was stepped up in 100-foot increments to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL). The S-92 pilots were able to monitor the position and altitude of the UAS on their iPad during the entire flight, without actual visual contact of the device.
Nick Rogers, Sky-Futures Chief Regulatory and Training Officer said: “These interoperability trials provided valuable insight and learning for safe operations between manned and unmanned aircraft using electronic conspicuity technology. As specific categories of commercial unmanned operations develop, we expect this technology to become a pre-requisite. Future airspace must be interoperable and Sky-Futures will continue to work with its trusted partner, Bristow, and regulators globally to safely realise this future.”
Bristow Group President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Baliff said: “The successful execution of this interoperability test is an excellent step forward to demonstrate that helicopters and UAVs can operate safely as a complementary service, providing additional opportunities for Bristow and Sky-Futures to jointly offer a higher level of situational awareness for our aircrews, and safe, new and innovative services to commercial and government clients.”
As UAS activity increases below 500 feet, effective communication between manned and unmanned aircraft will become essential to safe operation. Sky-Futures USA now equip their UAS with ADS-B when operating offshore.
Sky-Futures operated an AscTec F8 UAS with a Ping-2020 ADS-B system mounted to its frame. The Ping-2020 is FAA approved and developed by uAvionix, a California based company that specialises in developing the smallest and lightest transponder systems available. Bristow operated the Sikorsky S-92 and received the ADS-B signal using ForeFlight’s Stratus 2S. The Stratus receives the Ping-2020’s data and displays the UAS position and altitude on an iPad carried by the pilot