Dr. Brian Kish
Flying drones are doing great things today, from power line inspection to security monitoring to precision agriculture (fertilizer and pesticide application).
These drones have evolved from remote pilots to fully autonomous, with users programming waypoints and pressing the “Run” button.
So far, drone operations in densely populated areas have been restricted. But it’s about to be tested.
Imminent is the delivery of drone parcels. Today, Florida Institute of Technology graduates are conducting a flight test certification program for drone package delivery systems on Amazon.
When fielded, this determines the general public’s appetite (in terms of privacy, noise, visual disruption of the sky, security and safety) for drones flying over densely populated areas.
It’s only a matter of time before a parcel delivery drone crashes into a house or jumps into a large number of people, just as a delivery truck sometimes breaks down or crashes.
Assuming the general public accepts this (rarely), technology will grow and will be able to deliver larger and larger packages.
If the payload grows to hundreds of pounds, why can’t the payload be human?
This question has spawned an update to the quest for “flying cars” that has been featured in many science fiction movies and television series such as “The Jetsons.” This new quest is being promoted under the name “Urban Air Mobility”.
The latest FAA-funded programs Aerospace, physics, space science Associate Professor Marcus Wild And i Support FAA Develop compliance measures for the urban air mobility market, including electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
These future concepts are neither traditional fixed-wing aircraft nor helicopters. Just as the automotive industry had to figure out the certification of electric vehicles, the FAA needs to do the same for electric vehicles.
FAA flight and pilot training rules also need to be redefined.
For example, having 45 minutes of reserve fuel in case you need to bypass an aircraft due to bad weather can easily be defined with gallon fuel. Converting flight time to battery charge is not so easy. This is especially important for vertical landings or vertical misapproaches. In this case, the aircraft requires an additional power burst rather than the power savings found on fixed-wing aircraft on the final glide slope.
The key technologies required to enable urban air mobility vehicles are the same requirements as package delivery drones. That is, low emissions, low noise, vertical takeoff and landing, and accurate orbit control.
Helicopters have provided urban aerial travel for years, but they require pilots and do not meet emissions and noise requirements. They are also very expensive and are therefore mainly used by wealthy people.
Future prototype urban aerial vehicles range from multi-helicopters (similar to package delivery drones) to tiltrotor aircraft (similar to the military V-22) to other vehicles incorporating distributed propulsion and vector thrust.
The variety of these designs requires government regulators to develop certification and operational rules. The Florida Institute of Technology has an FAA agreement to help define new rules.
Self-driving cars and Amazon drones are paving the way for technology and regulation. Neither will be widely used in the near future. But as the public gains trust, the use of both will increase. And the dream of flying in a city like The Jetsons may come here sooner than you think.
Dr. Brian Kish is an associate professor in the Departments of Aerospace, Physics, and Space Sciences and chairs the Flight Test Engineering Program. His research and project interests include urban aerial movement, electrical and hybrid vertical takeoff and landing, pilot workload, and human factors and image-based navigation systems.
This work was introduced in 2021 Spring Edition Florida Institute of Technology..