A “first-of-its-kind” detect and avoidance system called Guardian has proved it will make defense aviation’s manned/unmanned teaming safer during its first flight test at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) headquarters on 28 July.
During the test, air vehicle operators from Unmanned Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (UX) 24 flew two RQ-21 Blackjacks toward each other while Guardian operators monitored screens that displayed the systems’ approach as part of the test plan.
Guardian tracks manned and unmanned systems across airspace within a 200 nautical mile radius. Furthermore, the system improves airspace safety using ground-based sensors to communicate with air vehicle operators in ground control stations.
It also provides visual cues for navigation and traffic avoidance maneuvers like turn, ascend, or descend in instances where collisions are imminent – all on a computer screen, similar to GPS in a car, according to the navy.
Guardian alerted its operator of an imminent collision once the two systems came within 400 feet of each other and made avoidance maneuver suggestions helping operators avoid the simulated collision.
“The first flight showed Guardian delivers on its promise improving airspace situational awareness and safety,” said Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dulude, the Blackjack air vehicle operator supporting Guardian’s first flight.
“Looking ahead, we’ll put Guardian through complex tests to confirm it will reliably handle congestion in the busiest airspaces as we work toward FAA certification which could significantly reduce Stingray’s developmental test time and costs.”
NAWCAD engineers prototyped Guardian in response to mandates set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limiting unmanned systems from operating in airspaces alongside manned aircraft.
As noted by the officials, the restrictions make flight operations increasingly difficult to schedule as unmanned aviation becomes a larger part of the US Navy’s portfolio.
For example, only a single unmanned vehicle can operate over NAWCAD’s airspace, the Atlantic Test Ranges, at any given time making flight operations a challenge to manage across Pax River’s six squadrons testing every aircraft for the US Navy and US Marine Corps.
Guardian is the only ground-based detect and avoidance system developed to meet the FAA’s performance standards for unmanned systems.
The test team expects Naval Air Systems Command certification by the end of 2023. The experts are targeting technology adoption by the MQ-8 Fire Scout, MQ-4C Triton, and Small Tactual UAS programs for the future.