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New Facility Adds to University’s Research Capability on Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The University of Maryland has added an outdoor, netted facility near its main campus in College Park for researching and testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The 100-foot wide, 300-foot long, 50-foot high Fearless Flight Facility (F3) opened in the fall and is enclosed by durable black netting of the same type of material used on golf driving ranges, which enables the flying of UAS within restricted airspace, according to Don Woodbury, director of innovation partnerships at the university.

The airspace around Washington, D.C., is more restricted than in any other part of the country. The university’s A. James Clark School of Engineering is within the flight restriction zone, but because of the netting, the F3 is considered indoors, and the restrictions do not apply. The university talked to the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure there would not be issues with flying UAS in the netted area.

“The goal of the netted area is to enable researchers and students to fly outdoors in the restricted airspace area for the Washington area. We also wanted to be able to fly safely because when people are experimenting they sometimes might lose control of the aircraft,” Woodbury says.

Prior to F3, UAS research was limited to indoor labs on campus, and for outdoor testing, to the university’s UAS Test Site in California, Md., about 70 miles from College Park or at other outdoor sites outside of the restricted flight area. F3 allows researchers and students to conduct experiments in close proximity to campus in a real-world environment exposed to wind and other weather conditions, without having to travel.

“We wanted to add to capabilities on campus for unmanned aircraft systems. We can fly indoors and have a wind tunnel to test UAS, and now we have this outdoor area adjacent to campus. It allows ready access to fly, convenient to students, faculty and researchers who can walk out of their labs and fly instead of figuring out where to go off campus outside of the restricted flight area,” Woodbury says.

F3 was built for less than $300,000 using university funds. The facility will be used by researchers and by students enrolled in courses about unmanned aircraft and by UAS-related clubs on campus for racing and other activities. The university also is planning on offering an engineering camp for high school students to learn how to build an unmanned aircraft from a kit and how to fly it.

“We have a broad set of objectives focused on research, education and recreation,” Woodbury says. Ongoing research projects at the university include an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to track and take down an adversary UAV.

“We have a UAV designed to track an adversary UAV — track, hone in on it, and launch a net to drag it to the ground,” Woodbury says. “Other people are doing similar research, but Maryland is using a biomimetic approach, which is different, designing the device to actually track the adversary the same way as biological systems, in this case like a dragonfly tracks an adversary.”

For more information, contact Anjanette Riley, communication coordinator, University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering, at ariley12@umd.edu.

Article photo: University of Maryland