Nasa, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and other industry partners have started trials of a new system at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.

The trials are designed to enable unmanned aircraft fly routine operations in national airspace.

The series of tests began on 17 June and will continue through July, as part of Nasa’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS-NAS) project.

Industry partners involved in the project include General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) and Honeywell International.

The latest tests build on the flights conducted last year, which evaluated a proof-of-concept sense-and-avoid system.

Trials are being conducted in two phases with the first focused on validation of sensors, trajectory, and other simulation models.

An Ikhana aircraft equipped with an updated sense-and-avoid system will be flown, and an S-3B high-speed piloted surrogate aircraft will used for the tests.

Nasa said: "Both tests will use other aircraft following scripted flight paths to intrude on the flight path the autonomous craft is flying, prompting it to either issue an alert or manoeuvre out of the other aircraft’s path."

"Tests will use other aircraft following scripted flight paths to intrude on the flight path the autonomous craft is flying."

These flights are designed to evaluate an automatic collision avoidance capability on autonomous aircraft.

On 17 June, the project team completed 14 encounters using the Ikhana aircraft and a Honeywell-owned Beech C90 King Air acting as the intruder.

A total of 23 encounters were accomplished during second test the following day. The team plans to fly over 200 encounters during the first phase of the series.

Armstrong Flight Research Center UAS-NAS deputy project manager Heather Maliska said: "Our researchers and project engineers will be gathering a substantial amount of data to validate their pilot manoeuvre guidance and alerting logic that has previously been evaluated in simulation."

Nasa plans to commence the second phase of the test series in August. This stage will include a T-34 aircraft equipped with a proof-of-concept control and non-payload communications system.

Image: Nasa’s Ikhana aircraft in flight. Photo: courtesy of Nasa.