Langley UAS Operations Office Awarded for Safety Oversight

Langley UAS Operations Office Awarded for Safety Oversight

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Langley UAS Operations Office receives first place award from AUVSI.

For the second straight year, XCELLENCE Awards by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) awarded first place in its Operations and Safety Organization category to NASA Langley Research Center’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations Office. The award recognizes the office’s overall safety and oversight of all UAS operations at Langley. 

Langley’s UAS Operations Office supports center researchers in their UAS efforts to ensure safe operations and to provide easy coordination for operations within the National Airspace System (NAS).

“We [the UAS Operations Office] don’t do the research, but we do the operations and safety oversight, explained Tommy Jordan, head of the Langley UAS Operations Office. “The researchers are doing the research, writing the code, building the hardware. Then, once they want to go outside and fly those vehicles, we serve as the Range Flight Safety oversight. We are the interface to the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and to whoever may own the range.”

For example, UAS operations at Langley occur within the air space managed by Langley Air Force Base. The center has an agreement with the base to have real-time communications with its people during all operations. 

As a part of its oversight efforts, the office identifies hazards and works to mitigate those hazards. In addition, it trains the UAS pilots and ensures the airworthiness of the vehicle.

“All the things that are required for a safe and legal flight operation,” summarized Jordan. “We also provide all the ground support equipment that the projects need. It allows us to do those things for all the projects so they don’t have to do those things individually.” 

“This allows the researchers to focus on their research, their vehicles, their hardware, their software and not have to deal with the administrative side [of operations],” added Mark Frye, Range Flight Safety lead for Langley. “They don’t have to worry about any of that. We give them approval to fly.”

By providing this support across the center, the UAS Operations Office provides a level of consistency to Langley operations and also gives researchers the opportunity to expand and improve their testing options, thereby maturing the Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of their projects. 

“We bring a consistency to the vehicles and the operations because they are going out and flying in the NAS. It’s helping projects that in the past maybe would have just ended [testing] with a simulation in a laboratory. We allow them to mature their TRL and actually go out and do a flight test. It helps them march up that TRL scale. We help them take that step out of the laboratory into a flight environment and help them mature their technology, all in support of the mission. “

Between the demonstrated benefits of the UAS Operations Office’s approach on NASA’s Aeronautics Research and Science Directorates’ projects and the recognition from AUVSI EXCELLENCE Awards, the team is encouraged for future operations. 

“It’s great to see members of our Range Flight Safety program recognized for their efforts,” said Sandy Hudson, program executive for NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Range Flight Safety program, which oversees range activities from an agency perspective. “Langley has a lot of UAS operations, and we feel we have a good plan of action for handling them and the right requirements in place. We see the benefits of the work, but it’s always rewarding to have an outside organization see and acknowledge that we’re doing great work that helps keep people safe and our missions successful.”

AUVSI is the world's largest non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics and represents corporations and professionals from more than 60 countries involved in industry, government and academia. AUVSI members work in the defense, civil and commercial markets.

The AUVSI XCELLENCE Awards honor innovators in the unmanned systems industry; individuals and organizations with a demonstrated commitment to advancing technology; leaders in promoting safe practices; and programs that use unmanned systems to improve the human condition. Winners were announced during the awards ceremony at AUVSI XPONENTIAL on Tuesday, April 30 at the McCormick Place in Chicago. "The XCELLENCE awards recognize companies and individuals who are achieving remarkable results with unmanned systems technology to benefit our communities", said Brian Wynne, President and CEO of AUVSI.