UND teaming with Langley Research Center and defense industry to test new UAS sense-and-avoid technology

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences


What: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) flight test demonstration of an automatic sense-and-avoid capability

Who: University of North Dakota, NASA-Langley, MITRE Corp.

When/where: Thursday, September 20, at the Grand Forks International Airport for a demonstration of on-board technologies. Signage will be posted on site to guide visitors.


Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Langley Research Center in Hampton Roads, Va., have a new twist on an old saying, "Look Ma, no hands," when it comes to piloting a small plane.

The new twist is a result of a NASA partnership with The MITRE Corporation and the University of North Dakota.

"This a vital step in our ongoing sense-and-avoid technology research," said Mark Askelson, a UND atmospheric scientist and UND's principle investigator on this unmanned aircraft systems research project. "This partnership with MITRE and NASA Langley is especially important as we move toward aircraft that will one day be equipped with ADS-B or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. The ADS-B system, together with more reliable and accurate sense-and-avoid technology, will be vital to future UAS operations."

The team is using a NASA Langley general aviation aircraft—a Cirrus SR-22—that was developed as a unique test bed to assess and mimic unmanned aircraft systems. Capitalizing on NASA Langley's years of flight test experience, the Cirrus SR-22 is equipped with special cockpit technology and computer equipment loaded with automatic "sense-and-avoid" software algorithms developed by MITRE and UND.

During a flight demonstration at the Grand Forks N.D., International Airport, the NASA aircraft will show how technology onboard can allow it to sense and avoid a UND Cessna 172 "intruder" plane, being flown by University instructor pilots. The Cirrus will have a safety pilot in the cockpit, but researchers say three computer programs developed by MITRE and one by UND will automatically fly the plane.

The flight demonstration is part of the Limited Deployment – Cooperative Airspace Project (LD-CAP). It is a multi-institution research project designed to help better integrate unmanned aircraft, equipped with technology, such as satellite-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast ADS-B data-link tracking, into the national air transportation system.

Remotely piloted, unmanned aircraft systems are growing in popularity and have many potential uses, including remote firefighting, search and rescue and surveillance. But their routine use in civil airspace creates technical, operational and policy challenges.

LD-CAP is trying to address one of the biggest challenges – the development of a way for unmanned aircraft to sense and avoid other planes to compensate for not having a pilot on board capable of seeing and avoiding other aircraft.

Automatic sense-and-avoid software includes the ability to keep aircraft safely separated from one another and to take immediate action to avoid any imminent collisions when the ground-based, remote pilot does not react. These initial flight tests will validate work done in simulation and help engineers determine how they can design systems so that unmanned aircraft can be safely incorporated into the skies.

Follow-on testing in 2013 is expected to feature additional advanced software by MITRE and UND as well as sense-and-avoid software managed by "Timeliner," a task automation framework developed by Draper Laboratory that is currently in use on the International Space Station.

Rundown of Sept. 20 events:

9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Static Displays & Hands on Demos

SR-22 will be on static display.

10 a.m.


Special remarks presentation.

10:15 a.m.

Research Objectives

Overview of the SAA challenge and the LD-CAP research.

10:30 a.m.

Sense and Avoid Algorithms

Discussion of what algorithms are doing in connection with UAS sense and avoid technology

10:45 a.m.

Surrogate UAS

Overview of the SR-22 capabilities

11:00 a.m.

Flight Demonstration


Lunch Break

1 p.m.

Brief Welcome for afternoon session

1:15 p.m.

Sense and Avoid technology (ADS-B) and its Value to General Aviation

1:45 p.m.

Flight Demonstration II

2:45 p.m.


3:00 p.m.

Static Displays & Hands-on Demos (continue)

NASA Langley

Solving the tough problems in air, space and earth science is what NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. has been known for almost since it was established as the United States' first civilian aeronautics laboratory in 1917. Researchers at NASA Langley are focusing on some of the biggest technical challenges of our time: global climate change, access to space, planetary exploration and revolutionizing airplanes and the air transportation system.

University of North Dakota Aerospace

The John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota is a world-renowned center for aerospace learning, nationally acclaimed for its achievements in collegiate aviation education, atmospheric research, space studies, earth system science and policy, and computer science applications. With over 500 faculty and staff members, more than 1,500 students from around the world, and myriad programs and projects, the Odegard School is setting the pace for the future of flight.

The MTRE Corporation

The MITRE Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that provides systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government. It operates federally funded research and development centers for the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, with principal locations in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va. MITRE's participation in the joint LD-CAP research project is being financed by company research and initiative funds.

Draper Laboratory

Draper Laboratory is a not-for-profit, engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving critical national problems in national security, space systems, biomedical systems, and energy. Draper is developing advanced capabilities for remotely piloted aircraft based on its extensive experience with complex mission management, strategic guidance navigation and control, and advanced autonomy in unmanned underwater vehicles and spacecraft including the International Space Station.