A half dozen UAVs and associated control systems are now in line for certification by the FAA. The Agency published guidelines on Friday describing the airworthiness criteria the FAA finds to be appropriate and applicable for the unmanned aircraft systems designs. Among the manufacturers and suppliers tipped by the FAA for this process:
- Amazon Logistics, Inc. MK27
- Wingcopter GmbH 198 US
- Zipline International Inc. Zip UAS Sparrow
- Matternet, Inc. M2
- Airobotics Inc. OPTIMUS 1-EX
- TELEGRID Technologies, Inc. DE2020
Many of the conditions defined for the certification are consistent with those of traditional aircraft. The drones must be durable and reliable, able to operate in inclement weather or know to avoid it. They must have documented and tested limits on “performance, maneuverability, stability, and control of the UA within the flight envelope” while at least 5% over maximum gross weight.
But there are also special considerations because the pilot will not be inside the aircraft. The communications links, propulsion system, GPS data, and any other critical systems with a single point of failure must be accounted for in the testing, ensuring that the aircraft does not suffer loss of containment or control. And these must be demonstrated in real-world testing, not computer simulations.
In the case of the Amazon MK27, the spec also calls for a pilot to control as many as 20 of the UAVs simultaneously, all beyond line-of-sight. This creates additional challenges that must be designed for and tested against.
To address the risks associated with loss of communication between the pilot and the UA, and thus the pilot’s inability to control the UA, the proposed criteria would require that the UAS be designed to automatically execute a predetermined action. Because the pilot needs to be aware of the particular predetermined action the UA will take when there is a loss of communication between the pilot and the UA, the proposed criteria would require that the applicant identify the predetermined action in the UAS Flight Manual. The proposed criteria would also include requirements for preventing takeoff when quality of service is inadequate.
In many cases the FAA is not prescribing what the limits are but pointing out that the manufacturer must define them and then build a UAV that meets those criteria. The durability test, for example, requires the manufacturer to define an aircraft lifespan and then prove that the components will not fail during that period, but does not specify what that timeline should be.
Ultimately the manufacturers will be tested against these standards, with the potential to receive a type certificate for the aircraft once the measures are defined and the UAVs successfully perform. With so many operating under special license today the move toward type certification is good news for the industry and the FAA.
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