Flight trials target first UAV demonstration flight in UK commercial airspace this fall

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Published: June 26, 2012

Flight trials are underway in the UK in preparation for the maiden flight of a surrogate Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in UK shared (non-segregated) airspace later this year.

The BAE Systems Jetstream aircraft, known as The Flying Test Bed, has pilots onboard, but can be flown as if it were an UAV. On successful completion of a series of flight trials, the aim is for the aircraft to operate using Instrument Flight Rules and under air traffic control in commercial airspace. 

The flight trials are being conducted in controlled, segregated airspace over the Irish Sea, with the first flight in non-segregated airspace targeted for the fall, probably in a remote area of commercial UK airspace.

The trials include the first use of autonomous, vision-based weather-avoidance routing and the first UK surrogate flight of a fully functional visual sense-and-avoid system, which includes collision avoidance tests using a second aircraft.

The new technology is part of a suite of innovations being brought together under the umbrella of the Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment program. This is a UK industry-led consortium focusing on the technologies, systems, facilities, procedures and regulations that will enable autonomous vehicles to operate safely and routinely in UK civil airspace.

The trials, according to BAE Systems, will begin to demonstrate to regulators such as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and air navigation service providers “the progress made towards achieving the safe use of UAVs in UK airspace.”

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