ASSURE program lands aerospace researchers FAA grants
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in a recent press release that $5.8 million would be going toward research, education and training grants to universities involved in the FAA’s Alliance for System Safety of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) through Research Excellence or ASSURE program.
Research scientist at the Aerospace Research Center, Matt McCrink said the goal of ASSURE is to assist the FAA by studying the technology and logistics behind unmanned flight.
“The ASSURE program in general is setup to essentially facilitate and investigate all of the key technologies that are going to be required and policies that will be necessary to integrate unmanned systems into the national air space,” said McCrink. “We look at what we have to do to safely operate a whole number of autonomous vehicles in close proximity to existing manned air traffic, and utilize the same air space and infrastructure to do that.”
Ohio State is one of the 24 research institutes that make up the ASSURE program, and has been for the last six years. Recently, ASSURE-based grants and research at Ohio State have ranged from airplane sensors, to injury assessment.
“We have a large level of diversity which we can use to answer a lot of these questions, be they policy, technical, or experimental work. We have the right people to do that,” said McCrink.
And Ohio State research are doing just that. In the latest round of ASSURE grants, Ohio State was awarded grants in three of the eight FAA research areas: air carrier operations, UAS cargo operations and high-bypass UAS engine ingestion test.
Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Kiran D’Souza is one of the researchers looking into high-bypass UAS engine ingestion. D’Souza was involved with a similar FAA study that recently found drones to be more damaging than birds of the same weight when ingested by aircraft engines.
D’Souza is leading an effort to develop a fan model that can recreate the structural and vibratory features of a modern high-bypass ratio fan. He is also coordinating with research partners to conduct high-speed impacts of UASs and UAS components against an angled titanium plate to validate an existing UAS quadcopter model.
The researchers will then do a series of ingestion studies with the validated UAS model and high-bypass ratio fan model. These simulations will give researchers a better understanding of what an ingestion of a UAS by a high-bypass engine would look like.
“The work will seek to define best practices for these ingestion studies and will provide an open source fan model for use in further studies,” said D’Souza.
D’Souza is working on this project with department of mechanical and aerospace engineering chair, Jim Gregory. The Ohio State led team also consists of the Wichita State University-National Institute for Aviation Research and the University of Alabama at Huntsville who are helping to update, experiment, and gather data on the UAS model. D’Souza’s team is also working with major engine manufacturers to develop the fan model.
While the work being done is building off an earlier project done with the FAA, D’Souza said research in this area is still very new.
“Very little has been done with any experimentally validated UAS models at the conditions of an engine ingestion, moreover details on the fan models previously used is limited and how well they represent actual in-service engines is unknown,” said D’Souza.
Ideally, D’Souza said the outcome of the research would be three-fold. First, he hopes it will help develop mitigation strategies, including procedures and training. He also hopes it will lead to a better understanding of the critical design features of UASs and influence industry design procedures. And D’Souza hopes to provide an open source fan model for future studies.
Along with all of these outcomes, the research will help the aerospace industry plan for safety, by determining worst case scenarios as they begin to analyze proprietary models.
The two other FAA grants are led by McCrink. The research being done in air carrier operation revolves around the urban air mobility space, a field that has seen growing interest in the last few years. McCrink considers this to be a next-generation project.
“The idea is very much like the Jetsons,” said McCrink, “you call up your personal air taxi and it comes and picks you up, and takes you from A to B.”
Although it may sound like science-fiction, major airframe suppliers have started developing concept vehicles, and even begun flight tests. McCrink said there are important questions that arise from the introduction of autonomous air taxis, the main one being safety.
“How do we incorporate and encapsulate this new technology, and ensure the safety for both the occupants of the vehicle, as well as deconflicting the airspace such that these things aren’t running into each other?” said McCrink. “That’s the idea.”
While McCrink’s first grant looks at the policy behind moving people through autonomous vehicles, his second looks at moving packages through drone flight.
The grant in the area of UAS cargo operations is focused on inserting autonomy into the shipping industry. The research looks at shipping companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon with the goal of inserting autonomy into their industry.
Ohio State is no stranger to autonomous flight research. In 2018 Ohio State researchers worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation to integrate drones to monitor traffic and drones along the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor.
These two programs have the potential to set the stage for the intersection of autonomy and aviation.
“This really is sort of laying the groundwork for the next step, where the public will be able to utilize autonomous transportation,” said McCrink. “This is no longer just the drone under the Christmas tree, this is real no-kidding, pilotless transportation that is being proposed.”
The diverse work being done at Ohio State is an example of the ASSURE program being used to its potential. The information provided by Ohio State and other institutions as a result of these grants will help the FAA to understand new UAS technologies, and do the development work necessary to enable them to operate safely in the airspace.
“Our partnership with the FAA allows us to use the deep bench of Ohio State expertise in a wide range of disciplines to impact the future of autonomous air vehicles operating in the national airspace system,” said McCrink.
Written by Sam Cejda, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering