In a groundbreaking development, AFWERX, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate, has successfully implemented an advanced Uncrewed Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Eglin’s Duke Field is set to be equipped with the cutting-edge Collaborative Low-Altitude UAS Integration Effort (CLUE). This move marks a crucial milestone for AFWERX as it seeks to validate the efficacy of air traffic management systems in guaranteeing complete safety amidst the rise of drones and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

“During the demonstration, the CLUE system was able to track two to three simulated uncrewed systems operating in their designated airspace along with live, manned air traffic,” said Brooke Ezell, AFWERX Prime program manager. “This provided a really helpful picture for how manned and uncrewed air traffic can co-exist safely.”

In upcoming testing at Duke Field, a variety of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) models will be utilised. However, it is worth noting that all of these models will have a weight below 70 pounds. This particular weight range grants them the advantage of being able to fly more frequently and with fewer limitations, as stated by Maj. Riley Livermore, the future flights commander of the 413th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS).

According to Darshan Divakaran, AFWERX’s head of airspace innovation and Prime partnerships, airspace management will be crucial for the advancement of air mobility and technologies such as drones and eVTOLs. “To promote technological advancements, we cannot compromise on safety. AFWERX Prime is focusing on collaborating with other agencies to ensure we can accelerate the future of air mobility in a safe and secure manner.”

Divakaran emphasised that their primary objective is to achieve situational awareness up to an altitude of 12,000 feet above mean sea level.

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AFWERX and the 413th FLTS at Duke Field will conduct an evaluation of military and commercial UTM systems, including CLUE, along with a range of technologies and sensors that are closely aligned with this domain. According to Divakaran, the upcoming testing will primarily centre around the assessment of UTMs’ capabilities in various areas. These include deconfliction, communication, and security, as well as their performance in low-altitude weather conditions and beyond visual line of sight operations.

Divakaran went on to say that Eglin is set to become a key proving ground for various initiatives under AFWERX Prime. These include endeavours related to airspace in support of Agility Prime and Autonomy Prime. “We will have additional proving ground locations across the nation in partnership withagencies such as the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation and NASA. We are also focusing on true public-private partnerships as we accelerate these efforts.”