Cranfield University and Blue Bear conduct first UAS test flights to establish principles for NBEC project



Cranfield, England's Cranfield University has announced that the first test flights to establish the principles for the National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) were successfully conducted at Cranfield Airport.

A collaboration between Cranfield University and Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd, NBEC seeks to create an experimentation corridor that will enable UAS to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft.

Using its Blackstart UAS towards its facility in Oakley, Bedfordshire, Blue Bear executed three-kilometer Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) race track flights within the Cranfield Air Traffic Zone.

Current regulations require UAS to operate within visual line of sight of the operator at all times. Under EVLOS conditions, observers maintain the line of sight while providing situational awareness to the operator.

Cranfield University notes that the Cranfield Air Traffic Zone was cleared of manned aircraft during this first phase of testing, to allow the project team to establish the principles for future integrated NBEC operations.

“When fully operational, the NBEC will be operated with Blue Bear and Cranfield running their respective systems, and will create an environment that allows other companies to come and test their UTM (Unified Traffic Management) concepts in a safe, managed environment,” explains Ian Williams-Wynn, managing director of Blue Bear.

“These initial flights, enabled us to provide Cranfield Airport with reassurance from an operational safety perspective that the systems Blue Bear had developed and put in place are appropriate and compatible with Cranfield Airport operations.”

The NBEC partners believe that unification that ensures fair and equitable use of airspace for all is the key to future UAS operations, as opposed to segregation. With that in mind, NBEC will provide a safe, managed environment for UAS experimentation, which will help with their integration into controlled and uncontrolled airspace. 

The goal is for the corridor to eventually stretch across Bedfordshire from Blue Bear’s headquarters in Oakley to Cranfield University’s airport.