Plans for Ikhana

In 2018, Ikhana, a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Predator B used to support NASA’s Earth science missions and technology developments, will fly in the US national airspace system without an escort aircraft for the first time.
Carla Thomas/NASA

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre has announced plans for its Ikhana system to fly in the United States National Airspace System (NAS) without an escort aircraft for the first time.

Ikhana, a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Predator B used to support NASA’s Earth science missions and advanced technology developments, is the main airborne platform for so-called detect and avoid (DAA) flight tests as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) works to integrate unmanned systems into the NAS.

Researchers are planning a major step forward in 2018, according to a programme update released by NASA Armstrong. A demonstration planned for this year will see Ikhana use its own DAA systems integrated on board and its ground control station to maintain safe separation and avoid other aircraft. All previous flights were permitted only with special FAA permission and required an escort aircraft. Ikhana completed four flight campaigns last year involving more than 900 encounters to test safe separation and collision avoidance systems.

NASA said: “The demonstration objectives are to engage the FAA air traffic and safety organisations to seek approval for an operationally representative route of flight showing a safety case that provides an alternative means of complying with see and avoid regulations.”

Mark Broadbent