The inclusion of large numbers of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS) may pose unique hazards to other aircraft sharing the airspace. It is necessary to determine the potential severity of sUAS mid-air collisions with aircraft in order to define an Equivalent Level of Safety to manned aviation.
Through H.R. 636 – FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, Section 2212, Unmanned Aircraft Systems – Manned Aircraft Collision Research, Congress mandated UAS research to determine the impact severity of ground and airborne collisions. The latest engine ingestion request from Congress came in September 2019 and aligns with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) readiness to conduct the final research phase.
The project is titled, “High-Bypass Turbofan UAS Engine Ingestion Test,” according to contract documents released Friday. This project encompasses the final research phase which is a live engine ingestion test.
“Understanding the severity of the ingestion event is critical to be able to estimate the extent of damage encountered in a typical incident/accident,” the FAA said in a Performance Work Statement released Friday. “To aid in the longevity of the information gathered during this effort, high fidelity data gathering, instrumentation, and model validation is crucial for future FAA regulatory and policy development surrounding safe UAS integration (here throughout to include sUAS) into the NAS.”
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 states that “in continuation of ongoing work, shall coordinate a program to conduct comprehensive testing or modeling of unmanned aircraft systems colliding with various sized aircraft in various operational settings, as considered appropriate by the FAA, including subpart (4)(D) Collisions between unmanned aircraft systems and various parts of an aircraft, including an engine.” Congressional Mandate, H. R. 636 – FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, Section 2212 states, “in testing and providing a final report detailing the overall risks associated with, and the underlying data and analysis for an actual UAS ingestion into a representative mid- to high-bypass gas turbofan engine of current commercial airliners.”
As sUAS become more prevalent in the NAS, proper integration is necessary to help prevent collisions between both unmanned and manned aircraft. In the final phase of this research, this work effort is intended to provide high-fidelity data from the actual ingestion of a market-representative sUAS into a commercial airline mid- to high-bypass gas turbofan engine, with a diameter of approximately 62 inches.
As sUAS operations become closer in proximity to manned aviation operations, specifically around airports, this effort will investigate the ingestion event representative of incidents occurring during the landing and takeoff phases of flight for a commercial airliner. This work effort is intended to identify the risks and recommend manufacturing best-practices for sUAS manufacturers, and inform the FAA on the potential outcome of an ingestion event.
This work effort is intended to identify risks and recommend solutions, or recommendations on the risks associated with UAS operating near commercial airliner engines, to the FAA that enable sUAS operations. This work effort will help the FAA by providing justification for operational limitations that can be used as inputs to FAA guidance and industry consensus standards relating to the use of sUAS near manned aircraft operations, specifically commercial airliner operations at airports. The work effort will also be immediately helpful for providing direction to FAA approvers for approving operations of sUAS that will take place near manned aircraft operations. sUAS operations need to have adequate standoff distances from flight obstacles and also avoid conflicts and collisions with manned aircraft (e.g. commercial airliners), specifically those sUAS that operate in the vicinity of an airport for operations such as runway inspections.
The FAA is working on a timeline to award contracts and move forward with the live ingestion test.