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UAS Detection Work Underway

More than 100 reports from pilots and others who spot an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying close to an airport or a manned airplane are reported to the FAA each month.

In an attempt to get a handle on rogue drones and their operators, the FAA partnered with DHS and CACI International to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports. The main goal is to safely explore procedures and processes for deploying and operating detection technologies in and around commercial airports.

“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” says Marke Gibson, FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration. “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number one mission.”

CACI’s proof-of-concept system, SkyTracker, employs radio frequency sensors at strategic locations around an airport in high, prominent locations. When the sensors detect frequencies UAS typically use, it triangulates the signals and determines the location of both the UAS and the operator.

From January 25 to February 2, 2016, the CACI system was evaluated at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), the first UAS detection research in a commercial airport environment. One hundred forty-one operations were executed over five days – 72 with a UAS on the ground and 69 with different small UAS in flight. 

“The results of testing under our PathFinder agreement with the FAA at Atlantic City International Airport demonstrate that SkyTracker performed as designed. It successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators all without interfering with airport ground operations. We are very proud to partner with the FAA and DHS to help ensure national airspace safety from the escalating UAS threat,” says John Mengucci, CACI Chief Operating Officer and President of U.S. Operations.

In the coming months, engineers from the three organizations plus the University of Maryland (UMD), who also participated in the evaluation, will work together to compile the data for a final report by August 2016.

Research also may contribute to keeping the skies safe from individuals who want to use unmanned aircraft for malicious purposes. To that end, the agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS in December to collaborate on the safe integration of UAS into the U.S. aviation system.


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