NASA-Vigilant Project Takes Another Step Towards Beyond Visual Line Of Sight

By Thomas L. Gemmell

Vigilant Aerospace Systems, Inc., an Oklahoma-based developer of flight safety and collision avoidance technologies for manned and unmanned aircraft, recently finished beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) testing of its FlightHorizon detect-and-avoid (DAA) collision-avoidance system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – or drones – at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA. 

During testing, which spanned a number of days and nearly 100 flights using DJI Phantom 4 drones, Vigilant tested the FlightHorizon system’s DAA algorithms, hardware integration and user interface performance. 

Eighteen different scenarios were flown using two DJI Phantom 4 drones (one acting as the primary aircraft, the other as the intruder) under real-world conditions, in which visual detection of approaching aircraft might not be possible due to distance, weather, altitude and/or speed. The scenarios triggered the system’s traffic alerts and collision warnings, allowing the drone to successfully execute avoidance protocols without pilot intervention or involvement. 

The tests were the culmination of a multi-month program of development, planning and test preparation.

Detect-and-avoid is a critical component of the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to safely integrate commercial drones into the national airspace, especially at extended ranges and higher altitudes, and is a key step to allowing drone operators access to airspace beyond that which the FAA currently permits under the Small UAS Rule (commonly known as Part 107). 

Data from the Vigilant-NASA program will be studied and added to data from other such programs, such as the FAA’s Pathfinder program, to advance FAA rulemaking to allow BVLOS drones to safely share airspace with manned aircraft. Though BVLOS drone operations are not currently permitted, such testing and proven capabilities have taken the industry one step closer to realization.