By Darcy Davidson, Chief Engineer Aviation
I was recently out flying my personal drone and ran into an issue that I think highlights some of the challenges and disconnects between the drone industry and the aviation community. The product I was using was a commercial off-the-shelf product of high quality design, and high quality manufacturing. The software was well written with an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) and did what it was supposed to do, but there was an item that really underscores the fact that it is a consumer product, and not yet a professional aviation system.
As you might expect for anything that flies, knowledge of altitude is critically important – after all, there are really only three things that bring a flight to an unsuccessful end: 1. Running into the ground, 2. Running into other flying things, 3. Running into weather that the craft cannot handle (which actually makes No. 1 occur). Fortunately, the concept of an aircraft’s altitude exists in every ground control station (GCS) that is on the market today. Whew.
But on further inspection, just about every software product on the market today indicates “Altitude,” but not the altitude type. As a pilot, I find that curious. There are many different “flavors” of altitude that any aviator must be familiar with and also manage to ensure a successful and safe outcome to any flight. Allow me to share the two most important, and the ones that were critical to my personal flight recently:
The fact that the software product that I was using neglected to differentiate between AGL and MSL was surprising, so I asked the company’s technical lead what kind of Altitude the display on their GCS was showing. The reply was, “I don’t know it’s just an Altitude – I didn’t know there was a difference”. Uh oh. From the definitions above, you can see there is a significant difference between the AGL and MSL and it will directly determine whether you have a collision with the ground (unsuccessful flight case No. 1) or with another aircraft (unsuccessful flight case No. 2)! If you are reporting AGL altitudes to an aircraft flying MSL in the same area you could be miscommunicating your altitude and the potential of a collision is very real. By displaying both the AGL and MSL altitude, the UAV operator can use the AGL Altitude (100’) to stay at least 100’ feet from the ground and report the MSL Altitude (2500’) to other aircraft in the area to avoid collisions (yes, in this example the high of the ground itself above the common Mean Sea Level reference would have been 2,400’).
The urge to go into this deeper and have a discussion about pressure and density altitude is intense, but marketing is asking me to keep this brief, so that topic will have to wait for another time.
These kinds of details and the overall professional approach to unmanned flight is what we think sets Insitu and INEXA Control apart from other offerings in the marketplace. At the end of the day, we exist to improve people’s lives and change the course of history through the professional and safe delivery of information.
INEXA Control is the first product to be launched within the INEXA Professional Unmanned Platform – a family of independent but interoperable products, each designed to provide exceptional value for specific points on the unmanned value chain. INEXA Control is a ground control system (GCS) that is capable of simultaneous command and control of multiple unmanned vehicles and payload.
By leveraging Insitu’s 20 years of experience in the unmanned services industry we have produced a GCS that is safe, reliable and compliant with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface. Our operators have come home from missions for years with a list of real world problems that have been heard by developers in the form of round table discussions. These discussions drive improvements into our software and result in a product that is both innovative and refined.
With INEXA Control, Insitu is offering a professional aviation capability that is unsurpassed by providing weather, airspace and flight planning tools to help the operator become expertly perform their mission rather than constantly having to keep tabs on airspace and weather. We use iterative development and testing methodologies that allow us to integrate new features and update issues at a very rapid pace, all while staying compliant with current and emerging regulations.
Enterprise adoption and use of unmanned aerial systems requires reliable systems that produce repeatable results. Insitu has been supplying mission critical information to our customers in the world’s most demanding environments. It is the lessons learned in those environments that gets incorporated into our commercial off the shelf products and enables our customers to benefit.
INEXA Control is compliant with the FAA’s recent Federal Air Regulation Rule 107 for small unmanned aircraft. FAA Rule 107 dictates procedures, guidelines and operational limitations for individuals who want to fly UAVs commercially in the National Airspace. Examples like electronic checklists and situational awareness displays, including constantly updated airspace boundaries and weather, make it easy for an operator to be Rule 107 compliant.
As we have worked to make INEXA Control the most impressive commercial GCS on the market, my team and I have not accepted anything less than excellent and have never stopped pushing the bar with innovations such as the Augmented Video Overlay System (AVOS). I am fortunate to be in a position where I can take the lessons learned from supporting the most demanding customers in the world and bring them to the general public. I am also grateful that our company has gone the extra mile and is providing INEXA Control at an incredibly low cost price to anyone who wants to download it from Insitu.com. I am proud of the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making this product great, and of course, that it shows you both AGL and MSL altitudes.