A NASA Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle takes off at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. The FAA has settled on six states to conduct research into unmanned aircraft systems, often dubbed drones. (Saul Loeb / Getty Images)
The Federal Aviation Administration has settled on operators in Virginia, Texas and four other states to conduct research into unmanned aircraft systems, often dubbed drones. The six test and development sites, required by Congress last year as part of a push to integrate commercial unmanned systems into the nation’s already-busy skies, were culled from 25 proposals and will operate until at least February 2017, the FAA said in a Monday news release.
Among the factors that played into the selection process, according to the agency: Climate, aviation experience and ground infrastructure. The sites achieve “cross-country geographic and climatic diversity” while helping the FAA meet its research needs, the agency said. Under the law, the FAA was supposed to have chosen the sites by the end of last year, but issued the request for proposals this February. Here is a list of the sites, accompanied by thumbnail descriptions of their research aims.
■ The University of Alaska: Develop a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, as well as research into state monitoring, navigation and safety standards. The university also plans to use locations in Hawaii and Oregon.
■ State of Nevada: Create operator standards and certification requirements; study needed changes to air traffic control procedures and determine how UAS will be integrated into the NextGen air traffic control system.
■ Griffiss International Airport, Rome N.Y.: Conduct research into how UAS can “sense and avoid” other aircraft, along with safety issues and meshing unmanned systems into the Northeast’s crowded skies.
■ North Dakota Department of Commerce: Examine airworthiness and human factors involved in UAS operations.
■ Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi: Develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations, along with procedures for airworthiness testing.
■ Virginia Tech: Evaluate operating and technical risk areas.