SALINA -- The Federal Aviation Administration is turning to Kansas State University Salina to test certification standards for small unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.
Under a memorandum of agreement signed by the university and the FAA on Aug. 29, K-State Salina will validate industry standards for small unmanned aircraft systems -- systems typically weighing 55 pounds or less -- set by the F38 technical committee of ASTM International. K-State Salina will use its own unmanned aircraft systems using the standards to apply for airworthiness certification.
Formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM International is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards.
"Determining the airworthiness of small UAS is a critical steppingstone to commercial flight operations of UAS, and K-State is thrilled to be leading the way in certifying today's unmanned systems for tomorrow's commercial applications," said Mark Blanks, unmanned aircraft systems program manager at K-State Salina.
"This project is of national importance in that this could well be the first small UAS to obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate for routine operations in our national airspace system here in the lower 48," said Kurt Barnhart, professor and head of the department of aviation and executive director of the university's Applied Aviation Research Center at K-State Salina.
"This airworthiness certificate would likely be a 'restricted' airworthiness certificate similar to that held by an agricultural aircraft, meaning that these vehicles would be restricted from operating above certain locations, such as over a populated area or at night. The potential here is truly exciting for K-State," Barnhart said.
Blanks said the agreement between K-State and the FAA is the first of its kind, and that the project will be a test to determine where the F38 standards need further development or may be overly prescriptive.
"Successful certification of a small unmanned aircraft system using the F38 standards as a certification basis would be a giant step toward commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace system," he said. "Even if certification is unobtainable, the weaknesses of the F38 standards will be identified, greatly expediting the final development of robust, practical standards."
K-State Salina is the ideal location to test the standards, Blanks said, because of the university's expertise with unmanned aircraft systems, its close proximity to the Small Airplane Directorate in Kansas City and the Wichita Aircraft Certification Office, and K-State Salina's involvement with ASTM's F38 technical committee. Blanks is chair of the F38 subcommittee for flight operations.
The university also will work closely with the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University throughout the project.