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AFWERX integrates uncrewed traffic management to enhance safety, security

  • Published
  • By Tim Tresslar
  • AFWERX

AFWERX and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate have installed an Uncrewed Aircraft System Traffic Management, or UTM, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Equipping Eglin AFB’s Duke Field with the Collaborative Low-Altitude UAS Integration Effort, or CLUE, is the next step in AFWERX verifying that current air traffic management systems can ensure complete safety as drones and electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft take flight.

“Airspace management will play a key role for the future of air mobility and technologies like drones, eVTOLs, etc.,” said Darshan Divakaran, AFWERX’s head of airspace innovation and Prime partnerships. “To promote technological advancements, we cannot compromise on safety. AFWERX Prime is focusing on collaborating with other agencies to ensure we can accelerate the future of air mobility in a safe and secure manner.”

At Duke Field, AFWERX and the 413th Flight Test Squadron will evaluate and test military and commercial UTM systems such as CLUE, as well as other related technologies and sensors. The testing will focus on evaluating the UTMs’ capabilities for deconfliction, communication and security as well as low-altitude weather and beyond visual line of sight operations, Divakaran said.

“Eglin is going to be one of our primary proving ground location for multiple efforts across AFWERX Prime, including airspace efforts supporting Agility Prime and Autonomy Prime,” Divakaran said “Our focus will be to have situational awareness up to 12,000 feet mean sea level. We will have additional proving ground locations across the nation in partnership with agencies such as the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation and NASA. We are also focusing on true public-private partnerships as we accelerate these efforts.”

Phil Zaleski, CLUE program manager, oversaw the CLUE system’s installation at Duke Field. Additionally, AFRL/RI has provided a field service representative at the field to manage the system on a daily basis and provide training and demonstrations, Zaleski said. Once the system was set up, AFWERX was able to demonstrate its capabilities with a drone simulator.

“During the demonstration, the CLUE system was able to track two to three simulated uncrewed systems operating in their designated airspace along with live, manned air traffic,” said Brooke Ezell, AFWERX Prime program manager. “This provided a really helpful picture for how manned and uncrewed air traffic can co-exist safely.”

Future testing at Duke Field will involve different UAS models, though they all will weigh less than 70 pounds, a size that allows them to fly more often and with fewer restrictions, said Maj. Riley Livermore, 413th FLTS future flights commander. This will provide validated data, before they integrate eVTOL, larger UAS and other advanced air mobility aircraft.