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Ohio Hopes To Piggyback Off Air Force Drone System In Springfield

Ann Thompson
Now that the Air Force Research Lab has been granted permission to fly its UAS beyond line of sight the State of Ohio hopes to get permission to allow companies like Amazon to do the same at this airport.

With a new state-of-the-art detect and avoid system, the Federal Aviation Administration has given the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) permission to fly its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) beyond visual line of sight at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. This permission is called a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). Ohio hopes to get its own permission but until then may partner with AFRL.

Friday's announcement is a big deal because the Air Force can test its drones locally up to 200 miles and at an altitude of up to 10,000 feet. It had been limited to seven nautical square miles at Springfield and would have to travel to specific FAA sites to fly any farther.

Guidance for UAS (unmanned aerial systems) operators in Springfield will come from an air traffic controller who is looking at the Skyvision system on the ground in a trailer. Radar is pulled in from Columbus, Dayton and London, Ohio. Air traffic controllers in the tower would continue to focus on planes.

Credit provided
This is the RV where an air traffic controller for drones sits and in combination with a series of radars can give directions to drone operators using the SkyVision detect and avoid system.

Air Force Research Lab Deputy Director Art Huber told WVXU in this story, "Now knowing where they are and the vectors in space - what space they are going, what direction they are going - the operator can now tell the pilot in charge of a small UAV, 'Hey, you have an airplane such-and-such distance from you. Why don't you turn in a new direction or airspeed or new altitude or whatever in order to stay away or avoid a collision?' "

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
An Air Force Research Lab crew does pre-flight checks for the Bat 4 UAV. It can now fly beyond visual line of sight with a new radar in Springfield, Ohio.

The Air Force and the State of Ohio are footing the $5 million bill for Skyview. Ohio is also counting on getting its own beyond line of sight commercial permission so it can invite companies like Amazon to test at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

Huber tells WVXU AFRL intends to establish a CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) with the State of Ohio. He says, "So where there is a commercial or civil application that's willing to share its data that might have military value AFRL will still sponsor that kind of application."

With the exception of FAA UAS test sites, most drones can only fly with visual line of sight, or an unobstructed path between the UAV and the controller.

Eventually this new system could become portable for law enforcement and first responders.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.