ATM Modernization, Commercial, Military

NASA’s Ikhana UAS Flies with ADS-B

By Tish Drake | March 29, 2012
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NASA’s Ikhana, a modified MQ-9 Predator B,
glides in for landing at Edwards Air Force
Base at the conclusion of the first checkout
test flight of the ADS-B on a UAS.
(Photo NASA/Tony Landis)

An Ikhana MQ-9 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) flew for the first time this month, as part of a collaborative effort between NASA and FAA.

The NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s Ikhana, a modified General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Predator B, performed the three-hour flight test on March 15 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. NASA said the flight was the first time an unmanned aircraft as large as Ikhana –– with a 66-foot wingspan, a takeoff weight of more than 10,000 pounds, and a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet –– has flown while equipped with ADS-B. It also was the first flight of hardware for the NASA Aeronautics research project known Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System, which is a key issue related to FAA’s NextGen airspace modernization initiative.

“ADS-B is a cornerstone capability required in the NextGen, and understanding its performance and suitability for integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system is critical to the overall goals of the project,” said Sam Kim, deputy manager of integrated test and evaluation for NASA’s UAS in the NAS Project.

NASA said the Ikhana flight kicked off a series in which researchers will collect ADS-B data while performing representative air traffic control-directed maneuvers. As part of a collaborative effort, FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., recorded ADS-B data from the flight and will help analyze the performance of the system installed in the aircraft. Researchers also evaluated new ADS-B laptop software for displaying surrounding air traffic information to the UAS pilots on the ground.

UAS in the NAS program, which was launched in 2011, is designed to contribute capabilities to reduce technical barriers related to the safety and operational challenges of unmanned and passenger-carrying airplanes sharing the same air space, according to NASA. The program falls under the Integrated Systems Research Program office managed at NASA Headquarters by the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. NASA’s four aeronautics research centers – Dryden, Ames Research Center, Langley Research Center, and Glenn Research Center – are part of the technology development project. More

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