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Oklahoma State University

OSU Study Examines Pilots’ Visual Detection of Unmanned Aerial Systems

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

An OSU College of Education faculty member has initiated a rigorous study focused on the abilities of pilots of manned aircraft to see and avoid unmanned aerial vehicles occupying the same airspace and on a potential collision trajectory.

Jon Loffi, assistant professor in aviation and space, along with Jamey Jacob, OSU aeronautical engineering faculty, and Ryan Wallace of Polk State College, are leading the study, titled “Seeing the Threat: Pilot Visual Detection of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Platforms Under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) Conditions.”Students fly in airplane.

One key challenge of integrating UAS platforms into the National Airspace System (NAS) is the potential for midair collisions between manned aircraft and the unmanned system. The void of technology, established guidelines and training within the aviation industry places the preponderance (burden) of avoidance efforts on manned aircraft pilots to see and avoid potential collision threats.

“The varied size, color, configurations and operational applications of UAS make those platforms difficult to identify,” Loffi said. “We are trying to determine the visibility distance of various UAS systems to an alerted pilot flying a general aviation aircraft under Visual Flight Rules conditions. We’re also evaluating pilot reaction times and preferred evasive maneuvers to various UAS convergence conditions.”

This study will lead to further research on “Sense and Avoid” methods and developing technologies to mitigate the risk of a collision in the National Airspace System.

In addition, counseling associate professor Hugh Crethar and Jennifer Byrd-Craven, Director of the Psychobiology Laboratory in the OSU College of Arts and Sciences, are conducting an additional study to examine the anxiety responses of pilots during encounters with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

Research flights are being conducted at OSU’s Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station near Stillwater and operational support is provided by the OSU Flight Center and assistant flight chief Jared Dunlap. Volunteer participants include 20 undergraduate professional pilot students at Oklahoma State.