On September 16, 2015, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in conjunction with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., announced the successful completion of a flight test demonstrating the “maturity” of a prototype “detect-and-avoid system” for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”).  The detect-and-avoid system would allow UAS to safely avoid other aircraft while operating in the National Airspace System (“NAS”).

The test UAS made 11 flights and successfully navigated 200 encounters with approaching aircraft.  Specifically, the test aircraft either detected other aircraft, and sent an alert to its remote pilot to take action, or it independently took action on its own by flying a programmed maneuver to avoid a collision.

The detect-and-avoid system has three main components including: (1) a prototype radar system; (2) an Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B); and (3) a second generation Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

FAA has long been concerned that UAS lack a reliable detect-and-avoid system.  Consequently, the most recent draft regulations require operators of commercial UAS to maintain visual contact at all times.  Though it is too soon to say, the NASA and General Atomics flight test could cause FAA to rethink its visual contact requirement in future rulemaking efforts.