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New unmanned aircraft research project proposed by UND to take off

A groundbreaking unmanned aircraft research proposal was approved Friday by a UND research oversight committee. The project proposed by staff from the university's unmanned aircraft program seeks to test radio control of unmanned aircraft beyond ...

A groundbreaking unmanned aircraft research proposal was approved Friday by a UND research oversight committee.

The project proposed by staff from the university's unmanned aircraft program seeks to test radio control of unmanned aircraft beyond line of sight. The Federal Aviation Administration is charged with integrating unmanned aircraft systems into commercial air space and researchers said this project supports that mission.

"This is true UAS integration into the (National Air Space). We have not done a project at UND that rivals as far as the importance of it to the FAA," UAS Course Manager Mike Corcoran said. "This is smack dab in the middle of what they're trying to solve."

According to an application submitted to the school's UAS Research and Compliance committee, the project's purpose is to test the "performance and viability of new radio communications" for unmanned aircraft.

The jump from flying these devices within sight of the pilot to out of sight is key to integrating the technology into commercial airspace.

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The first flights will be conducted at the Lakota, N.D., airport starting in June. Since flights are expected to go beyond the line of sight of operators, researchers will follow the aircraft from the ground in chase vehicles.

The two-year project is funded with $500,000 from the North Dakota Department of Commerce and a matching $500,000 contribution from avionics company Rockwell Collins.

The university's new UAS training aircraft, a SandShark manufactured by Northrop Grumman, will be flown to test the communication systems and gather flight data. A larger aircraft, a Boeing ScanEagle may be used later on in the project.

All research data collected will be stored by Rockwell Collins, according to the proposal application.

The SandShark is equipped with a forward facing video camera on its nose, but Corcoran said any video taken will not be archived so privacy concerns should be minimal.

The completion date for the research project is set for Nov. 30, 2016.

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