By Trista Moxley
On Oct. 11, researchers and a nationwide partnership of companies and government agencies took a giant step toward next generation air travel with a successful live flight test of emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) technologies, including future airspace system automation, advanced communications infrastructure, a surrogate electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft and a simulated air route between Hillwood’s AllianceTexas Flight Test Center in Justin and the University of North Texas’ Discovery Park.
This flight not only simulated a potential high-demand route for unmanned, autonomous cargo and passenger-carrying air transports, it also provided vital data for industry standards in airspace management, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and autonomous flight operations. The North Texas Cohort team organized by NASA’s AAM National Campaign Project were able to expand on earlier NASA-led research to include the integration of live weather data from uMass’s network of weather radars, CASA’s CityWarn system, and dynamic capacity balancing into a complex hardware/software solution needed to realize the next generation of airborne travel.
“The dream of Jetsons air taxis — which was set in 2062 — has remained just a dream to date, but advances in battery technology, robotics, aerodynamics and communication systems are bringing that Jetsons dream closer day-by-day,” says Keven Gambold, CEO of Unmanned Experts Inc. “The North Texas Cohort is focused on getting these revolutionary aircraft to help with everyday life, from safely delivering locally sourced food from farm to metro centers quickly to taking families to the airport a mere 10 minutes before boarding — faster, safer, cleaner, and more advanced than any other transportation system in the world.”
For the high demand routes to work, eVTOLs would need to be in constant contact with a traffic management system, as the test vehicle was during Tuesday’s test. This is not only to organize air traffic, but also to ensure the safety and security of the vehicles and people and property below. The North Texas Cohort research team, a group of 15 entities, including representatives from UNT, Bell Textron, Unmanned Experts Inc., AAMTEX worked with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Hillwood and the Federal Aviation Administration as they monitored the next generation aircraft through two ‘laps’ of a test route from AllianceTexas in Fort Worth to UNT’s Discovery Park in Denton, trialing novel communication and safety technologies.
“The test moves the North Texas region one step closer to a future where air taxis, air ambulances and delivery vehicles are a normal part of life,” says UNT College of Engineering professor Kamesh Namuduri, one of the leaders of the project. “We wouldn’t have been successful without all of our partners working in conjunction to make this a reality. We look forward to moving transportation in North Texas forward with the continued support of the entire team.”
The Bell 407GXi helicopter, supplied by Bell Textron as a surrogate eVTOL for the demonstration, completed the flight along a NASA-derived high demand route while providing real air data to a traffic management system known as a PSU, monitored on the ground. Leveraging Hillwood’s AllianceTexas Flight Test Center (FTC), (also known as ‘The MIZ’ for Mobility Innovation Zone) adjacent to the Texas Motor Speedway, the test was able to build upon earlier Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) and AAM efforts conducted over the past several years. The FTC has emerged as the ‘go to’ UAV and autonomous system industry destination for the collaborative testing and advancement of next generation technologies, including successful efforts for Bell, Wing, and other ground and air robotics companies.
“Hillwood is proud that the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone is serving as the catalyst platform for the future of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and their related traffic systems,” says Christopher Ash, senior vice president of Aviation Business Development for Hillwood and Alliance Aviation Services. “North Texas continues to be on the leading edge of the future of flight and this partnership, organized by NASA’s AAM National Campaign and initiated by the University of North Texas and Unmanned Experts, Inc., showcases the depth of regional assets and corporate resources that have enabled the MIZ to become a global focal point in the technological revolution occurring within air mobility.”
Other partners involved in the research include Avianco; Delmont Systems; ResilienX, Metron; Hermes Autonomous Air Mobility Solutions; AAMTEX, Frequentis; Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation; and CASA, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For more about our partners, click here.
UNT’s portion of the research is part of UNT’s Center for Integrated Intelligent Mobility Systems (CIIMS). CIIMS was established in 2020 to bring together expertise across disciplines, including engineering and business, around intelligent mobility, which includes autonomous flight, ground vehicles, and the systems that will enable their deployment.