The Federal Aviation Administration’s small UAS rule, which went into effect on Aug. 29, is expected to make it easier for many business, particularly small ones, to be able to use unmanned aircraft for their work. However, large companies can also see a benefit, as evidenced by Textron Systems Unmanned Systems’ use of the Part 107 rule to speed the time to market for a new command and control system. The Maryland-based company builds systems, including the Shadow tactical UAS, that have been military workhorses for many years. Yet Gregg Shimp, vice president of engineering for unmanned systems, told AUVSI about how the small UAS rule also allows it to work with smaller systems. Textron bought three different small, commercial-off-the-shelf UAS to help validate software for its new command and control system, which it plans to unveil during the upcoming Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting. That allows testing to be done at the company’s Hunt Valley headquarters, rather than traveling to its Blacksburg, Virginia, location, near the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, the state’s FAA-approved UAS test site. Shimp said the company saw the benefit as soon as the rulemaking process was announced. “We planned to take advantage of this as soon as it was published, we started doing all of the legwork so it was in place. We had the first pilot get there, get his operation certification that first day, and within a few days of that we were doing our first operations,” Shimp said. Eventually, all of the company’s 15 pilots will be certified under the Part 107 rule, he said. We’re trying to get the team up to speed so we can continue to provide those services to the customers, as well as speed our time to market, our time to develop products,” he said. “Anything we can do to shorten that cycle, we’re very interested in. This is a valuable opportunity, because traditionally all we’ve been able to do [at their headquarters] is simulation and the aircraft on the ground on electrical power, doing hardware and software in the loop. To be able to have systems that we can fly here and add that link in the chain, it makes a big difference.” Textron Systems will likely seek FAA waivers to do more complicated testing with its larger Aerosonde UAS, but “for what we’re doing here at the plant, we’re happy with what we’re able to do with Part 107,” Shimp said.
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