Getting REAL with drones
Today, RPAS operations are usually limited to segregated airspace or visual line of sight conditions, and operators and manufacturers rarely integrate certified avionics on-board. However, for RPAS to operate autonomously with other airspace users in a shared airspace volume, certified avionic equipment will probably be needed. This represents a great opportunity for GNSS augmented services, like EGNOS.
The introduction of unmanned aircraft operations is revolutionising the aviation world. However, it is commonly recognised that Airspace Management and future Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems will not be adapted to RPAS needs but rather, RPAS will need to fit into the current systems by complying with the rules and mandatory equipment specifications.
The GSA-funded RPAS EGNOS Assisted Landings (REAL) project has developed an EGNOS-based navigation and surveillance sensor (NSS), which is integrated in two different RPAS vehicles, and coupled to a generic RPAS autopilot and ground station system. Thanks to this new sensor, and to research work in which Concepts of Operations (CONOPs), safety assessments and new adapted design criteria have also been generated, the benefits of using EGNOS-based operations in RPAS field have been demonstrated.
The two-year project started in July 2016 with a consortium led by Pildo Consulting S.L from Spain and partners Sharper Shape Ltd of Finland, Italian company EuroUSC, and CATEC also from Spain.
“Such developments will contribute to demonstrate an innovative set of RPAS operations, supported by a sound safety case thanks to the high levels of accuracy and integrity provided by EGNOS,” says project coordinator Josep Montolio of Pildo Consulting.
The project has now been completed after the final demonstration phase in which the developed EGNOS sensor was tested under two different scenarios: precise take-off and landing on power substations and for powerline inspections and, secondly, in firefighting operations.
Following the successful integration of the EGNOS NSS into one RPAS model in mid-May, the REAL team performed the Scenario 2 (firefighting) final demonstration at ATLAS: a test flight centre located in Jaen, Spain.
“The aim of this demonstration was to fly a new instrument flight procedure based on EGNOS using the NSS equipment and validate the RPAS solution developed through the project,” explains Montolio. “In the specific case of firefighting events, a wide range of aircraft may operate in a particular area with adverse visual conditions. Hence, reliable and accurate position of all aircraft is essential, especially the drones, to keep an acceptable level of safety.”
And at the end of May the NSS was integrated and validated with another drone, owned by Sharper Shape in Finland, for power line inspections.
The use of EGNOS will increase the safety of operations involving drones by enabling higher levels of precision in the navigation systems of these aircraft.
“The REAL project promotes the use of EGNOS and new technologies with the aim of facilitating the integration of drones in European airspace,” concludes Montolio. “This is especially so for low altitude operations where RPAS operations have the greatest potential.”
The results of the different flight test campaigns were assessed by all project partners and reviewers as very successful. Firstly the newly developed NSS successfully integrated into the different types of drones, with communications between the NSS and the autopilot/RPA acting as expected. More important were the validation of the predefined navigation specifications, and a validation that the proposed highly accurate navigation specifications are achievable with EGNOS as a positioning solution.
The results obtained by the REAL project will form a useful resource for input to regulatory bodies and for avionics manufacturers working in the RPAS sector. The project will also provide feedback to GNSS receiver manufacturers about the avionics requirement for integration in RPAS.
Image credits: GSA