UND is helping aircraft talk directly to each other with new sense-and-avoid technology

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UND is helping aircraft talk directly to each other with new sense-and-avoid technology

For University of North Dakota atmospheric scientist and radar expert Mark Askelson and his team, it's all about safer skies.

Askelson is the principal investigator on a project to research and deploy aviation technology that will enhance the safe operation of both manned and unmanned aircraft.

The technology is called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B, and it is enabling enhanced utilization of global satellite networks, Askelson said.

The ADS-B system, developed by the MITRE Corp., is part of the next generation, or NextGen, of air traffic safety. The ADS-B unit installed in an aircraft transmits aircraft speed, location and altitude information not only to air traffic control centers but also directly to other pilots in the vicinity. This produces huge safety and efficiency gains, Askelson said.

"This multi-institution research project — the Limited Deployment-Cooperative Airspace Project, or LD-CAP — involved a complex set of test programs executed at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences airport operations and at NASA-Langley," Askelson said.

This part of the project tested sense-and-avoid algorithms [instruction sets for performing calculations, especially by computers] for unmanned aircraft, including sense-and-avoid computer software developed by a research team led by Will Semke and the late Richard Schultz, which included students at the UND College of Engineering & Mines.

For the LD-CAP research, UND, NASA, the MITRE Corp., and Draper Labs flew missions over several days in 2012 and 2013 to validate the technology in aircraft flown by UND and NASA pilots. The tests also demonstrated on-board sense-and-avoid technologies.

"Our partnership with MITRE and NASA-Langley for these tests was especially important as we move toward aircraft that will one day be equipped with ADS-B," Askelson said. "The ADS-B system, together with more reliable and accurate sense-and-avoid technology, will be vital for creating safer aviation operations."

The aim of the flight tests was to determine how sense-and-avoid algorithms could work with the ADS-B.

The LD-CAP phase at the national level is now complete, but research continues at UND focusing on ADS-B.

"The MITRE, Draper and NASA-Langley funding ended, so now it's just us here and a research team at NDSU working to complete the research," said Askelson, who has been working on LD-CAP and ADS-B technology research for several years.

"Now we're working on finishing the project to install ADS-B units in 70 North Dakota-based aircraft. Appareo Systems in Fargo is in the final development stages of these advanced ADS-B units," said Askelson. "The project depends on owners who volunteer to have these units installed in their airplanes."

"This is really about creating friendlier skies," said Askelson. "With more aircraft transponding — or broadcasting their location signals — flying will become even safer. Additionally, ADS-B units provide information such as weather, and this all helps pilots make wiser decisions about when and where to fly. We want to see this capability in more aircraft globally."

Askelson is reaching out to North Dakota's aviation community about this ADS-B project through the state Aeronautics Commission. Members of that group include Kim Kenville, director of the graduate program for UND's Department of Aviation.

"This is about the future of aviation," said Askelson. "My ongoing role in ADS-B and sense-and-avoid technology is to get the message out and to keep developing solutions."

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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