Aircraft Accidents and UAS Data, Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part blog looking at a report submitted to the International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics and Aerospace (IJAAA) and published September 12, 2016, through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) Scholarly Commons. It is titled Seeing the Threat: Pilot Visual Detection of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Visual Meteorological Conditions (commons.erau.edu/ijaaa/vol3/iss3/13). It was written by Jon Loffi, Jamey Jacob, and Jared Dunlap, all of Oklahoma State University (OK); and Ryan Wallace of Polk State University (FL). It is a well-researched paper that looks at the risk(s) that commercial and general aviation aviators experience flying in the same National Airspace System (NAS), with and being able to see Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) operating within the NAS.
First, may I remark, that this is a well-researched paper with excellent findings. The authors recognize that their research is one to be built upon; for the baton to be passed and taken through to the next lap. All metaphors aside, there is one negative comment I must bring forward: this research is years too late. It is definitely one to act as a foundation, and other writers should be able to build upon what is here. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), Embry-Riddle (and any other UAS instruction institutions) and every other alphabet group who finds UASs a possible intrusion upon the established NAS have been way too passive; they have complained about the new ways or simply accepted their presence while entitling inexperienced UAV operators to interfere with air operations that have themselves, e.g. airlines, oil rig helicopters, crop dusters, etc. been in existence for DECADES.
The report starts out with four basic questions:
1. What is the mean distance in which an aware pilot can reliably visually detect a converging UAS platform under visual meteorological conditions?
2. Is there a substantial difference in detectability of fixed wing versus quadcopter UAS platforms?
3. Is there variability between a pilot’s perceived visual distance from a UAS and their actual distance?
4. Based on the FAA’s model for Aircraft Identification and Reaction Time, would the pilots have adequate time to evade a UAS collision?
It is not my intent to go into specific detail their set-up, much less the findings; I will give some conditions that were used. The test aircraft was chosen for consistency: a Cessna 172S G1000. Test subjects (TS) were mostly 20-25 years of age, while a 25-30 TS and 60-65 TS were thrown in to mix things up. Test flight approaches that resulted in the sightings were organized; two UAS platforms were equipped with ADS-B and painted to contrast with the background, flying within visual range. For the sake of space, not all caveats and explanations will be listed here. Overall detection was a 40.3% of the intercepts’ success rate. The detections occurred between 0.10 and 0.31 statute miles.
The results displayed in their chart showed that a hovering or transitioning UAV being detected to either side of the test aircraft (port or starboard) were less likely to be scanned by the observer than a UAV coming head-on, and that was influenced by which of two UAVs were observed. Estimated and Actual estimated distances as guessed by test subjects varied little by comparison.
The authors point out that the results were based on ideal situations: each pilot was aware of the UAV and from which direction it came; conditions were perfect for distance sighting and weather conditions. There is no delusion of what the findings portray: a need for continuing research.
In my business, I’ve found it is vital that we do not operate from ‘tombstone investigation findings’; we must be diligent, working from a strong stand of facts, while not giving away the store to the inexperienced with agendas. The air industry cannot repeal what will be put into place; once regulations are written and permission is granted, no ‘take-backs’ can be made. We stand on the precipice of safety on such a grand scale, not only with General Aviation, but with commercial aviation. There are also those on the ground that trust the skies enough not to glance constantly over their shoulders for falling aircraft.
This research paper must be the first of many. Let’s get this right before we regret our impatience.

2 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and UAS Data, Part Two”

  1. Thank you for your kind review. We are working on part two of this same investigation. We are utilizing recent ADS-B technology designed for sUAS. Will also publish this research when complete.

    Best,

    Dr. Jon Loffi
    Oklahoma State University

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