Anti-drone system for airports passes tests

February 18, 2016  - By

SkyTracker_sensors_900pxEach month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) receives more than 100 reports from pilots and others who spot what appears to be an unmanned aircraft (UAS) flying close to an airport or a manned airplane. It’s become a serious safety concern for the agency, and a potential security issue for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In addition to the FAA’s ongoing outreach and education efforts, an additional step toward a solution is to detect and identify these “rogue drones” and their operators. Recently, the FAA partnered with DHS and CACI International to explore how the company’s prototype detection technology may help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports.

The main goal of the partnership is to safely explore procedures and processes for deploying and operating detection technologies in and around commercial airports.

SkyTracker. CACI’s proof-of-concept system — dubbed SkyTracker — employs radio frequency sensors at strategic locations around an airport in high, prominent locations. When the sensors detect frequencies unmanned aircraft typically use, it triangulates the signals and determines the location of both the UAS and the operator.

Under a Pathfinder agreement with the FAA, CACI successfully tested its system at the Atlantic City International Airport from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2. It was the first UAS detection research in a commercial airport environment.

A total of 141 operations were executed over five days — 72 with a UAS on the ground and 69 with different small UAS in flight.

The SkyTracker concept.

The SkyTracker concept.

“SkyTracker successfully identified, detected, and tracked UAS in flight, and precisely located drone ground operators — all without interfering with airport ground operations,” said CACI CEO and president of U.S. Operations John Mengucci. “We are very proud to partner with the FAA and DHS to help ensure national airspace safety from the escalating UAS threat.”

“The explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft industry makes evaluating detection technologies an urgent priority,” said Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA senior advisor on UAS Integration. “This research is totally aimed at keeping our skies safe, which is our number-one mission.”

“Working with the FAA, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate is proud to provide our expertise in testing and simulation of technologies to better address the safety and security challenges posed by unmanned aerial systems,” said DHS Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology Robert Griffin.

In the coming months, engineers from the FAA, DHS, CACI and the University of Maryland (UMD), which also was a partner in the evaluation, will work together to compile the data for a final report by August 2016.

Malicious drones. Research on UAS detection systems may go beyond addressing the FAA’s concerns with the safety of UAS in the nation’s airspace. The effort also may contribute to keeping the skies safe from “bad actors” who want to use unmanned aircraft for malicious purposes.

To that end, the FAA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS in December to collaborate on the safe integration of UAS into the U.S. aviation system.