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September 2017 – Airworthiness and UAS – An Ongoing Journey

By Guest Blogger, Rose Mooney


The history of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), although not very long, has captured the imaginations of many. From large military-type drones to those flown on the weekend for fun, we look to the skies again for defense, new perspectives, and potential new ways to give businesses an edge. The Omnicon Group has worked with unmanned aircraft systems for over two decades and is ready to answer your questions about how to make your systems and aircraft certification ready.

Increased use of UAS, by the United States, began in the military in the early 1980’s. This use was initiated and procured by the military intelligence directorates. The information gathered was important, rather than the means or the aircraft. Price, size, and expeditionary use were the factors for the UAS awards. Therefore, the departments purchasing the UAS were not aviation savvy so airworthiness certification was not a requirement. When the military moved the UAS programs under the aviation directorates airworthiness became a major concern.


Much like manned aviation UAS, a.k.a. drones, come in many shapes, sizes, capabilities, and costs. They range from very small drones weighing ounces to over 15,000 pounds UAS that can fly for over 30 hours. If you walk into Walmart, Toys R Us, or any number of retail stores in person or shop online, you can find a variety of drones starting from prices of $20 on up. These toys, in many cases, have very limited capabilities and often don’t last much past the first couple of days of use. This makes the development of standards and regulations far different than we have seen for manned aircraft. This includes developing airworthiness requirements.

Airworthiness for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has been a topic of discussion since UAS moved into the military aviation directorates and began to fly in the National Airspace System (NAS). For safe operations, airworthiness is a chief consideration when designing, building, and testing UAS. Airworthiness for UAS has to be looked at not only by capabilities but also by mission. This is very different from manned certification which looks at capabilities and equipage. Manned aviation considers best equipped is best served for access.

Since UAS are newer to civil aviation than manned aircraft, airworthiness and standards continue to be developed. In the US, the FAA works with standards organizations such as Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) and ASTM International. RTCA has a committee SC228 that is working on Detect And Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) data link Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS). These standards are being developed so that UAS can transit Class D, E, and G airspace to operate in Class A airspace and is focused on larger UAS. They have published DO-365 for DAA Phase I MOPS and DO-366 for MOPS for Air-to-Air Radar DAA Systems Phase I. The FAA released the part 107 rule for small UAS, 55 pounds and under, in June 2016 that allows UAS to operate under 400 feet and within visual line of site for civil use. ASTM F38 has published a number of standards for this size aircraft including F2909 – Practice for Maintenance and Continued Airworthiness of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems and F3003 – Specification for Quality Assurance of a Small Unmanned Aircraft System. These bodies continue to work on and release standards as designated by the FAA and staffed with industry experts.

Rose Mooney is an industry expert on UAS. She works with manufacturers, small and large companies, NASA, FAA, RTCA, and ASTM to further UAS access and enable a viable commercial market for UAS nationally and internationally. Rose can be reached at rosemooney@archangelaero.com for further information.

While certifications for unmanned aircraft are still in process, Omnicon’s team of engineers can provide assistance in development of your UAS systems and programs. Whether you’re looking for system development, full life-cycle program management, verification, validation or testing, we are primed to assist you.

Tags: certification, do-178, DO-254, drones, UAV, UAVs, validation, verification



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