Frequentis and Sunhillo have addressed the challenge of connecting unmanned aerial system (UAS) pilots in command (PIC) with air traffic control (ATC) operations by launching the UAS-C system, the companies announced on 10 April.
As the number of UAS in both civil and military applications continues to grow – with potentially exponential growth in the near future – so, too, does the demand for secure, reliable connectivity between unmanned and manned aviation. The UAS-C system does this by converting UAS position data into standard aviation formats and provides a secure virtual radio communication link to connect seamlessly to existing ATC infrastructure.
High-quality surveillance information and voice communication are essential for a common air situation picture and shared situational awareness for ATC, PIC and manned aviation. The primary concern when integrating civilian and military UAS into the airspace is safe, secure and reliable communication between all airspace users in the same geographical region.
The surveillance of manned aviation is mainly based on primary and secondary radar technology, which cannot safely detect, identify and predict the position or future track of UAS, while ATC communication currently relies entirely on onboard VHF/UHF radios which is not available to many UAS.
“The UAS-C coverts the UAS’ onboard position data into standard aviation format (eg ASTERIX) for processing in any ATC unit or command centre. The data can then be visualised alongside other radar and ADS-B targets, ensuring a common air situation picture. The UAS-C also provides connection to any Frequentis voice switch infrastructure [and] automatically selects the correct radio frequency by the location of the UAS,” stated Frequentis Vice President ATM Civil, Hannu Juurakko.
UAS-C can be connected remotely via LTE or directly via a secure IP network connection. It supports all types of UAS operations flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), including flying in or through controlled airspace, regardless of size, altitude or mission.
“UAS have the potential to assist various military missions such as aerial surveillance or investigation. Allowing a direct connection between the UAS operator and military ATC is vital for mission success,” added Vice President Defence at Frequentis, Peter Skiczuk.
UAS-C provides air traffic controllers and command centres with reliable and secure ground-based UAS pilot communication while the PIC uses the same virtual frequency as manned aviation users, minimising the risk of safety infringements. Since the communication equipment is located on the ground, UAS-C does not relay information through the UAS vehicle radio equipment, reducing the overall weight of the UAS and increasing payload.
“A common air situation picture is key to the safety of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Pilots benefit from party line radio communications and shared situational awareness. The UAS-C also provides the pilot with a ‘see and avoid’ display showing all aircraft, provided via ATC surveillance infrastructure, in the immediate area as well as sending the location of the UAS to ATC or the local command centre,” explained UAS Business Development lead at Sunhillo Corporation, Doug Walczak.