2nd experimentation campaign for the RPASinAir project

On February 2nd and 3rd 2022 the second Real Time Simulation (RTS) experimentation campaign for the RPASinAir project was held in the laboratory of the Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale (DTA) into the Grottaglie-Taranto airport. RPASinAir project is co-funded by Italian Minister of University and Scientific Research.

At RTS campaign the following organizations participated: DTA, Leonardo, ENAV, University of Bari. The research and experimentation laboratory is aimed at studying the insertion of RPAS/UAS into ATM (Air Traffic Management).

The experimentation campaign has verified capacity to integrate remotely piloted aircraft in standard air traffic scenarios, that is those characterized by commercial aviation ‘manned’ (with pilot on board), guaranteeing safety of air traffic.

The experimentation campaign has validated the distributed Real Time Simulation environment deployed by Leonardo and DTA. The system connects the laboratory in Grottaglie airport with research laboratories of Leonardo implementing a secure network and aeronautic standards. The infrastructure is also connected with Fucino Space Center (managed by Telespazio, also partner of the RPASinAir project).

The Real Time Simulation infrastructure is composed of a system managing the ATC activities (Air Traffic Control), 3 simulators of SW4-Solo (Leonardo OPV helicopter) located in Grottaglie, Rome and Sesto Calende, implementing flight dynamic and mission planning and management available to the pilot, and a simulator (developed by Leonardo) of commercial air traffic. The experimentation involved 2 Air Traffic Controllers (ENAV), from Grottaglie, 1 UAS pilot (Leonardo, from Rome), and 1 operator (Leonardo) in Grottaglie operating simulated commercial air traffic following the request of the Air Traffic Controller. Also a simulator of fixed wing RPAS (developed by Leonardo) was added to test the innovative interface of ATCO in the case of Command and Control link loss.

In this experimentation campaign, some operational scenarios developed by ENAV were tested. Scenarios refer to (voice) satellite-based interaction between the air traffic controller and the pilot of the remotely piloted aircraft. The RPAS operation is inserted in  a simulated traffic composed of about thirty aircrafts (arriving or departing from the airport of Grottaglie). In particular, SID (Standard Instrument Departure) and STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Routes) execution tests were carried out both in nominal and contingency conditions. The test had the objectives to validate the situation (and the management procedure) of loss of pilot-UAS Command and control data link and of ATCO-Pilot voice communication channel.

The experimentation campaign included the assessment of the impact of human factors for ATCO. The assessment is aimed at measuring the effort (and stress) spent by the ATCO to control such a complex air traffic. Stress is determined by the complexity of air traffic scenarios, by the interface of systems (Human Machine Interface) and by the designed contingency situations.

The use of unmanned aircraft systems on board is growing rapidly in particular for operations such as: monitoring environmental disasters, patrolling resource transfer lines (pipelines, railway bridges, …), surveillance of migratory flows and observation of crops.  The safe insertion of  RPAS in non-segregated airspace requires the development of an air traffic management and control (ATM/ATC) system that allows the traffic controller to recognise the presence of unmanned aircraft and communicate with the pilot without this leading to an excessive workload. The achievement of this objective passes through the definition of procedures, protocols and rules for the management of new categories of critical events directly related to the flight of unmanned aircraft on board, for example air platform-pilot station datalink loss or ATM-pilot station link loss.  The creation of a virtual environment that simulates the behavior of the RPAS is essential so that it is possible to design and experiment, air operations with different types of RPAS in complex air and ground scenarios, all with a significant reduction in risks and costs. The real future operation itself will benefit from the use of these environments used for mission planning. The project, coordinated by Antonio Zilli (DTA), and the results to be achieved are in line with the roadmap developed by the SESAR programme for the integration of RPAS/UAS in European airspace and the Strategic Plan for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) developed by ENAC.

RPASInAir project also involves the execution of a real flight test campaign to be held starting from the beginning of 2022 using the RUAS SW-4 Solo helicopter, an optionally piloted vehicle. The flights will validate the operational scenarios analyzed in a simulated context and will see the use of a satellite datalink solution  designed  by Telespazio to conduct missions in BRLOS (Beyond-radio-line-of-sight). This will demonstrate the relevance and effectiveness of a laboratory for the simulation of air operations with RPAS/UAS within the airport that enables a rapid transfer between real laboratory and operational experiences.