Volume 01 | Issue 19 | October 12, 2020
UAM Infrastructure, Virtual ATM, AI Fighter Pilot Algorithms

Welcome back to the Future of Aerospace, where each week we dive into a few of the trends rapidly defining the next generation of aircraft and aerial markets.

Last week, Boom Supersonic's XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft made its first public appearance, and for the first time, Kubernetes, an open-source container-orchestration system for automating computer application deployment, scaling, and management, was used on an operational major weapons system in the Department of Defense (DoD). More on that here.

THIS WEEK: Several panel discussions featured as part of the Vertical Flight Society’s Forum 76 highlighted the less flashy aspect of urban air mobility that is just as important as the aircraft development programs that grab headlines: infrastructure development.(Electrification and Sustainability)

Air navigation service providers in Europe continue to research and develop the future virtual centers concept necessary to improve the region's ability to manage cross border flight operations. (Public Policy)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to re-use algorithms employed in the recent AlphaDogfightTrial (ADT) for research on artificial intelligence-enabled intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare (EW); decision-making; and other purposes. (Autonomy & AI)

Thanks for reading.

—The Future of Aerospace Team
Understanding Infrastructure Challenges for Urban Air Mobility Development
Image: Uber Elevate

Large investments have been made into electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft over the past few years, however, the less flashy topic of infrastructure is often a second thought when considering the development of eVTOL for urban air mobility (UAM).

Last week during a panel discussion featured as part of the Vertical Flight Society’s Forum 76, Rex J. Alexander, president of Five-Alpha LLC, explored current VTOL infrastructure and how it would have to be expanded for the future of UAM.

Since Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines on UAM have not been fully established, Alexander explained current FAA regulations that currently impact in-service VTOL aircraft. FAA 14 CFR Part 77 and Part 157 establish guidelines for the safe, efficient use, and preservation of the navigable airspace and notice of construction, alteration, activation, and deactivation of airports, respectively.

Alexander: We get dimensional criteria. We get terminology. We get processes from these locations. Additional guidance that you have to pay very, very close attention to in infrastructure for heliports, and soon to be vertiports, if you're looking to get involved in the Department of Defense in any way, shape or form you have to pay very close attention to what's called unified facility criteria or UFC. This is where all the major services point to.”

Here’s a look at what some of the progress being made by Uber, the FAA and NASA toward establishing operational criteria, regulatory guidance and other key aspects for the future enablement of UAM infrastructure, based on comments made during Forum 76.
  • Mark Moore, engineering director of aviation at Uber Elevate: “I want to say a critical thing that we're working with our partners is on the infrastructure. Right now we're working a great collaboration with the FAA, NASA and our OEM partners on coming up with an infrastructure requirements document, certainly we have a great basis with AC 150 and the heliport design guidance from which then to make sure we account for differences that relate to fixed wing eVTOL aircraft.”

  • Wes Ryan, unmanned and pilotless aircraft technology lead at the FAA: “Our shared challenge is really trying to balance the great ideas that are coming our way and the pace that industry wants to move with the ability to make sure that those things are implemented safely. And so, part of our challenge is reconciling these great future plans that are being put out there, with the ability to prove the technology is safe for civil use, and that the infrastructure is ready for that and most importantly, that we're not disrupting the air traffic that we currently have and the success and the high safety rate that we have in commercial service.”

  • Starr Ginn, urban air mobility thought leader at NASA: “We're trying to understand the unique characteristics of the vehicle so that we can provide suggested evolutions of the existing vehicle infrastructure and airspace standards to enable this market.”

Read more on efforts to develop infrastructure requirements for UAM.
Are Virtual Centers the Key to Improving Cross-border ATM in Europe?
Image: Skyguide

Some of the largest air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and air traffic technology suppliers in Europe believe that the establishment of new "virtual centers" are the key to improving the way commercial and military flight operations are handled across borders by the region's fragmented air traffic management system.

What is a virtual center and how can it improve air traffic management in Europe?

  • Implementing virtual centers and dynamic airspace reconfiguration was first introduced as a way of improving cross-border flying in the Single European ATM Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR) JU's March 2019 Airspace Architecture Study (AAS).

  • SESAR JU describes the virtual center as a concept that involves transforming the way ATM data services, such as flight data, radar, and weather information are ultimately shared between physical individual air traffic controllers and other stakeholders across the ATM ecosystem.

  • Europe's current air traffic system features decision-making based solely on the individual air navigation service providers in each European nation-state, where data is made available based on the decisions of the individual ANSPs and where needed, ANSPs are given control over adjacent airspace to the flight information region (FIR) that they're responsible for.

  • Under the vision for virtual centers, the currently fragmented structure would be decoupled and transitioned to the development of a new data servicing system where individual Air Traffic Service Units (ATSUs) work in tandem with ATM Data Service Providers (ADSPs) that provide flight data processing functions like flight correlation, trajectory prediction, conflict detection and resolution, and arrival management planning.

Representatives from the ANSPs that manage air traffic for Italy and Switzerland explained during SESAR JU's recent "Digital Academy Webinar on Virtual Centers," explained how they envision an eventual transition to the use of virtual centers working in Europe.

Thomas Buchanan, senior adviser for international and public affairs for Skyguide - Switzerland's ANSP - said that the adoption of the virtual center's concept will also help them become more flexible toward accepting new sources of aviation data.

Buchanan: “What we're transitioning toward is the creation of data centers that are location independent, we're going to be using the data center in Zurich to transfer data to both of our area control centers, west, and east. We will reuse the other data center as a cold standby to be able to come in as a contingency to the first data center should it fail. We also have external data from two sources, one of them being [French ANSP] DNSA as the prime source, and a redundant data service provision that is going to come in from [Italian ANSP] ENAV on cloud services.”

Read more about Europe's efforts to use virtual centers for ATM.
DARPA to Re-Use Air-to-Air Combat Trial Algorithms for ISR, EW
Image: Lockheed Martin.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to re-use algorithms employed in the recent AlphaDogfightTrial (ADT) for research on artificial intelligence-enabled intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare (EW); decision-making; and other purposes.

In ADT, eight industry teams pitted their AI dogfighting agents against one another in F-16 simulators and against U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots in a lab environment.

What is ADT and how will the algorithms used during ADT be reused in research for infusing more artificial intelligence into ISR missions?
  • ADT has been a year-long risk reduction effort for DARPA's Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program, which aims to increase fighter pilots' and others' trust in combat autonomy by using human-machine collaborative dogfighting and to make advances in complex human-machine collaboration.

  • Air Force Col. Dan “Animal” Javorsek, the ACE program manager of Air Combat Evolution in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office and a former F-16 pilot: "We look forward to applying all the technology that we explored and built up as part of this trial in other domains. Because it is reinforcement learning, the algorithms aren't limited to the air-to-air combat scenario. We're also looking to apply them to ISR, EW, decision making, and other autonomous vehicles."

One topic under consideration is the addition of a number of AI, collaborative agents to future scenarios in which one AI agent could control other agents, according to Adrian Pope, an AI research engineer with Lockheed Martin.

While there are a number of technical challenges, such as the multi-agent one, to future AI military use, the largest may be cultural. Feedback on ADT featured a demographic split.

Javorsek:The digital natives, the younger generation coming into cockpits these days, have a lower reluctance to these sorts of [AI] systems. The older pilots took pride in the ability you had to fly the airplane and control where the radar was pointing. Naturally, that's not a very good application of that cognitive human capacity in the aircraft because it means while the pilot is controlling the elevation of the radar, the adversary could be doing something you're not paying attention to or thinking about. We're trying to offload as much of that [as possible].

Read more about how DARPA will reuse the AI Dogfight algorithms.
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