May 17, 2024 - Hillwood

First Multi-Aircraft AAM Flight Test at the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center

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After an extensive 18-month research and development effort, team members from Unmanned Experts Inc., AAMTEX LLC, and the University of North Texas (known as the ‘North Texas Cohort’) successfully executed a two-day, live flight exercise at the AllianceTexas Flight Test Center (FTC). The research project, called DIOXIDE, created hardware/software infrastructure for future electric cargo and passenger aircraft (eVTOLs) to fly safely across North Texas skies with minimal human interaction.

The complex flight profile, which was part of a joint NASA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) Agility Prime program, linked together two manned helicopters from the Helicopter Institute and one unmanned airship/dirigible from Galaxy Unmanned Systems as part of a mesh network of ground and air ‘nodes’ that could autonomously communicate between themselves and their operators. Each aircraft and ground station contained a software-defined radio (SDR) and a computer package that included secure command and control, flight planning, weather, warnings, and vehicle-to-vehicle messages to pass across the network.

This test event provided a series of firsts for both the NASA and USAF Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) programs — the first multi-aircraft, vehicle-to-vehicle coordinated flight, the first integration of an unmanned airship, the first inter-PSU (the software backbone) strategic and operational deconfliction of flights, and the first use of autonomous tactical vehicle-to-vehicle conflict management.

This is the second stage of an ongoing program for these technologies to come to daily utilization across the DFW airspace. The next phase is sponsored by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and NASA to expand the mesh network, increase data collection, and design more complex scenarios with the goal of making North Texas the hub for this next-generation aircraft capability.