By Keith Rogers
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Nevada’s drone institute went above and beyond the call when it flew 28 successful takeoff-and-landing sorties during a simultaneous test April 19 at Reno-Stead Airport.
The experiment, coordinated by NASA Ames Research Center, was conducted at the same time with drone operators at six out-of-state flight test locations designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Unmanned Aerial Systems experiment was designed to demonstrate use of a computerized research platform that manages drone traffic in airspace shared with manned aircraft.
“It was a milestone. It really went well,” said Chris Walach, operations director at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.
The nonprofit institute, sponsored by the governor’s economic development office, has conducted more than 350 FAA-authorized test flights of drone “smalls” since September at various locations, including near Mesquite, Hawthorne and Reno-Stead Airport.
Upcoming tests with “bigs” — those that weigh more than 55 pounds — by defense contractors are on the horizon, institute officials have said.
The flight tests April 19 in Reno were conducted simultaneously with those in Fairbanks, Alaska; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Rome, New York; Blacksburg, Virginia; Bushwood, Maryland; and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, monitored the flights remotely using an air traffic management platform for low-altitude drones. Walach said the small, “quadcopter” type drones were cleared to fly up to 700 feet above ground.
A NASA Ames spokeswoman said the successful experiment opens the door for the next phase of testing the traffic-control platform for beyond-line-of-sight use in rural areas.
The computerized research platform requires authorized drone operators to enter a flight plan. Operators receive a reply that informs them if another drone is using that airspace or if there are other constraints such as an airport where drone use presents a conflict. Another flight plan is then submitted that will clear the operator for a designated airspace and operating time.