SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Central New York’s drone test site project is still in its infancy.
Four months after being selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six national test sites where researchers will figure out how to keep drones from crashing into piloted aircraft, NUAIR – the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance – is not flying anything. It’s not testing anything. It’s essentially operating without money.
One thing NUAIR partners can do is solicit ideas.
So last month at Syracuse’s Center of Excellence, NUAIR partners were asking business leaders and professors for ideas about how they could use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
Edward Bogucz, the Center of Excellence’s executive director, asked if a drone could replace the shotgun he once purchased for research.
At the time he was SU’s Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. A professor had asked to purchase the shotgun to gather leaves from treetops in the Adirondacks.
“The only way to get the leaves was to shoot them down,” said Bogucz. “Could UAV’s be used to collect leaves?”
At NUAIR’s fledgling stage, this was progress.
“Part of our task is collecting data to give to the FAA to develop rules and regulations for flying UAVs,” said Robert DelZoppo, an assistant vice president at SRC, in Cicero. SRC is a NUAIR partner.
NUAIR suffered a loss last week with the death of Robert Knauff, NUAIR’s CEO. Knauff died while flying a glider in Arizona.
Knauff, who had commanded the New York Air National Guard’s Fighter Wing from 1996 to 2003, served as chief of staff of the New York Air National Guard and then its commander, was instrumental in starting NUAIR, though he had not been directly involved since his wife, Tara, died last fall, said Anthony Basile, NUAIR’s director of operations.
Knauff was an aeronautical engineer, well-connected in Washington, D.C., and brought a unique perspective to NUAIR, said Basile.
“He would see things we hadn’t seen yet. I fear we’ve lost that,” Basile said.
NUAIR has no immediate plans to name a new CEO, said Andrea Bianchi, NUAIR program manager.
NUAIR has a $1 million commitment from New York state which will comprise most of NUAIR’s $1.2 million budget for 2014.
But no money has come forth, said Bianchi, who is NUAIR’s one full-time staff person. She is employed by Centerstate CEO, which is donating her services to NUAIR.
As one of six test sites in the United States, NUAIR’s research emphasis will be working to develop sense and avoid technologies that enable drones to fly safely in commercial air space. The Department of Defense has spent more than $200 million over the last 13 years on the problem. It’s not solved yet.
But developing sense and avoid technology requires flying drones.
There are dozens of off-the-shelf drone models that people are flying. According to the FAA’s simple guideline for these, a hobby drone must weigh less than 55 pounds, be flown below 400 feet, and kept within the operator’s line-of-sight. Additionally, they can’t be flown for commercial purposes.
NUAIR, because of its contract with the FAA, must obtain FAA approval to test fly any drone of any size – including the drones hobbyists can fly.
For every drone or UAV type that NUAIR wants to fly and every place it wants to fly one, it must apply to the FAA for a certificate of authority (COA). NUAIR will have test locations at Griffiss, Fort Drum, Stockbridge and Cape Cod, Mass.
Each COA application is 18 pages of questions, plus attachments.
In the next month or two, NUAIR will apply for its first COA at Griffiss, Bianchi said. She would not say what UAV would be covered by the application.
Whenever NUAIR begins flying, it won’t be the first test site in the U.S. to do so. On April 21 the FAA granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce team a COA to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES – a 36-inch, five-pound drone quadcopter – at its test site. The North Dakota team plans to begin flying this month, exploring ways drones can help farmers and ranchers.
The FAA recently announced a special COA application process for test sites like NUAIR that is expected to speed the COA approval process from 90 days to 2-3 days.
In the meantime, NUAIR is seeking clients who will pay it for research. For the second year NUAIR will have an exhibit at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference May 12-15 in Orlando, Fla.