Chris Norton is a former Royal Air Force fighter pilot who cofounded 2Excel Aviation, a company based in the United Kingdom. In addition to a good bit of aviation business, Norton is researching ways to enable civilian airspace to be opened up to drones (UAVsunmanned aerial vehicles).
Other than battlefield application, drones are not allowed. Norton would like to see that change. To advance the cause, his company has partnered with Selex Galileo, an Italian company specializing in military electronics. Together, they have developed and are refining a sense-and-avoidance system.
Norton believes if the problem of midair collisions can be eliminated, that will be the key to unlocking civilian airspace to routine drone traffic. A plane equipped with this sense-and-avoidance system, when remotely detecting a possible midair collision, can redirect its flight path automatically while not putting anyone in danger.
Initial experiments are yielding convincing data. The typical pilot will detect an oncoming plane at 1.3 miles. The sense-and-avoidance system will detect that same oncoming plane at 2.5 miles.
As Norton refines his product, he sees the next step being marketing the product to small planes owners. The added safety feature would cost about $2,400. He believes aviation market acceptance will be similar to that experienced by GPS. When GPS first appeared on airplanes, the pilot was not allowed to rely on its readings. Now that GPS has withstood the test of time and technology, the situation is very different.
Assuming matters progress as Norton anticipates, we may soon be in for a drone-filled sky. Pay attention to your autopilot!
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