NASA flies unmanned aircraft in public airspace without safety chase plane

The Ikhana aircraft, NASA´s remotely-piloted based at the agency´s Armstrong Flight Research Center, has flown its first mission in the National Airspace System without a safety chase aircraft, the company said. 

This flight moves the United States one step closer to normalizing unmanned aircraft operations in the airspace used by commercial and private pilots.

Flying these large remotely-piloted aircraft over the United States opens the doors to all types of services, from monitoring and fighting forest fires, to providing new emergency search and rescue operations. The technology in this aircraft could, at some point, be scaled down for use in other general aviation aircraft.

Flights of large craft like Ikhana, have traditionally required a safety chase aircraft to follow the unmanned aircraft as it travels through the same airspace used by commercial aircraft. The Ikhana flew in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration´s (FAA) Technical Standard Order 211 and Technical Standard Order 212. 

The FAA granted NASA special permission to conduct this flight under the authority of a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization on March 30. The certificate permitted Ikhana´s pilot to rely on the latest Detect and Avoid technology, enabling the remote pilot on the ground to see and avoid other aircraft during the flight.

The flight was the first remotely-piloted aircraft to use airborne detect and avoid technology to meet the intent of the FAA´s see and avoid rules, with all test objectives successfully accomplished.