Make room, planes, jets, and helicopters — a new type of aircraft is on the horizon.

Known by many names — unmanned autonomous systems, remotely piloted vehicles, radio-controlled aircraft, and even drones — these new aircraft can be as small as a toy airplane or as large as a passenger jet.

Virginia Tech is leading one of only six Federal Aviation Administration-approved test sites working to integrate unmanned aircraft into U.S. air space, an initiative that was discussed by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors on Sunday.

“With our partners, we firmly believe we can introduce this new technology the right way,” said Jon Greene, interim director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and an associate director of the university’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. “Separately, the team members have flown unmanned aircraft systems for thousands of hours, and now we have joined together to conduct unmanned aircraft systems research, development, and test and evaluation activities.”

Greene spearheaded the Virginia Tech proposal, which was selected by the FAA after a rigorous 10-month process involving 25 proposals from 24 states.

Testing is being conducted under the auspices of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, a collaboration led by the university with academic and industry partners to safely develop unmanned aircraft systems.

The partnership is crafting its next set of operations and has plans to continue with simple, low-risk testing until it is confident in procedures and processes, Greene said.

“Our mantra will be that whatever happens, we want to make sure that it is at least as safe as the manned aircraft operations that are already occurring in the national airspace system,” Greene said.

Virginia Tech has long been a leader in Unmanned Aviation Systems technology. Operations under the auspices of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership have been ongoing since fall 2013.

A milestone occurred in early December when the state committed more than $1 million to invest in the unmanned aircraft systems effort, regardless whether Virginia Tech’s proposal for a national test site was selected.

On Dec. 30, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration announced its decision to make Tech the leader of a national test site. With academic partner Rutgers University, university leaders welcomed the challenge to position mid-Atlantic  states firmly within an exciting new industry, and looked forward to the University of Maryland joining the partnership.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.


Share this story