The Royal Australian Air Force will fly its Heron Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in civilian airspace for the first time in June, after signing a Memorandum of Agreement with Australia’s airspace control body, Airservices Australia.
The Heron’s planned flights from Rockhampton Airport as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015 will be the type’s first outside restricted military airspace in Australia.
Commander of Surveillance and Response Group Air Commodore Chris Westwood and Airservices Australia’s Executive General Manager Air Traffic Control Greg Hood signed the Memorandum of Agreement, which sets out procedures to ensure safe operation of the platform in civil airspace without significant impact on air traffic.
“The MoA aids both Airservices and Air Force by facilitating the initial operation and integration of remotely piloted aircraft into civil airspace, based on Air Force’s mature and thorough airworthiness and aviation safety system,” said Air Commodore Westwood.
The Heron is a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system, with an all-up weight of 1100kg and wingspan of 16 metres. It can conduct missions in excess of 24 hours, with a maximum speed of more than 100 knots (180 km/h) at altitudes of up to 10,000 metres. Australia’s Herons deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, providing Australian Defence Forces with high resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability while gaining experience in UAS operations.
Australia was the first country in the world to regulate remotely piloted aircraft in civil airspace, with its Civil Aviation Safety Regulation Part 101 in 2002. The original regulation is now being updated to provide guidance to industry on manufacturing, maintenance, operations and training in light of the rapid expansion of civil unmanned aerial systems for civil applications. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority will work with Airservices and Air Force to monitor the Heron arrangements from a civil aviation safety perspective.
“This MoA is recognition of the changing way that airspace is being used to embrace new technologies,” Mr. Hood said.
This will not be the first time military unmanned aerial systems have operated in civil airspace in Australia. Both the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk and General Atomics Mariner have flown from Australian military airbases on evaluation flights, and a Global Hawk flew in to Avalon Airport in Victoria in February for static display at the 2015 Australian International Airshow. But it is believed to be the first time a military UAS will conduct operational exercises from a civilian airport.
Air Force currently operates two Heron aircraft from RAAF Base Woomera in South Australia, as part of a plan to continue operational development and ensure Air Force pilots maintain the skills to operate UAS until the introduction of the MQ-4C Triton.
Source: Australian Defence Magazine