The meeting organized in Brindisi by the Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale (DTA) (Technological Aerospace Cluster) on the 5th and 6th of February has marked a significant step towards the realization of project RPASInAir, project that concretely initiates the “Grottaglie Airport Testbed” programme.
More than 50 researchers, representing the 14 industrial and academic partners, have shared the achieved results and planned the next research and experimental activities that will culminate with the realization of an experimentation campaign pivoted on the Airport of Grottaglie. The above-mentioned campaign will adopt an innovative method based on the evolution of a simulation rig that will eventually lead to a totally real test. Representatives from various national stakeholder authorities have joined the meeting: Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (Fire Fighters), ENAC (Italian National authority for civil aviation), ASI (Italian Space Agency), Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Experimental Flight Department) of the Italian Airforce. They have provided useful indications on actual needs in order to more effectively translate the results of the project in industrial competitiveness and growth of the regional and national aerospace system.
Project RPASinAir is developing technologies and solutions to experiment aerial operations of BRLOS type (Beyond Radio Line of Sight) with remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPASs, often identified as “Drones”) integrated in the air traffic management system (ATM) aimed at providing new and innovative services for risk prevention and emergency management. This will put the project consortium among the first in Europe to ever have tested such kind of operations, while it will be the first test of BRLOS operation with the helicopter SW4-SOLO (Leonardo).
Indeed, this helicopter (SW4-SOLO) will be endowed with a satellite antenna and it will be piloted through a datalink with Athena Fidus, a satellite for dual broadband telecommunication. The operation will be allowed by a direct link between the rotorcraft pilot station, the laboratorial infrastructures in the airport of Grottaglie and the Fucino Space Centre.
The command and control station (remote pilot and payload operator) will be placed in the airport of Grottaglie enabling a series of experimental flights in the segregated airspace.
New functions for the Control Working Position will be developed and tested by the air traffic control operators (ATCOs) in order to verify the safety level of the operations, the performance of the remotely piloted platforms and the performance of SATCOM and SATNAV space services.
The experimentation will demonstrate that an air traffic control operator, provided with innovative ATM (Air Traffic Management) tools and functions developed within the project, can control the aerial operations involving RPASs according to the current flight rules.
The achieved experience will help the project partners contribute to the effort that Europe is making in order to establish new air traffic rules that allow the flight in controlled airspaces.
This experimentation capability is consistent with the SESAR JU European Roadmap for the safe integration of drones in all airspace classes European ATM Master Plan: Roardmap for the safe integration of drones into all classes of airspaces, SESAR JU, 2020).
The airport of Grottaglie, together with the National Industry technological commitment and the innovation of the involved research centres, contributes to the consolidation of the leadership of the Italian aerospace field in the development and integration of RPASs, air traffic control systems, communication (SATCOM) and navigation (SATNAV) space services.
These results will be primarily realized by ENAV and Leonardo Group which includes, apart from the Helicopter Division, Telespazio and Vitrociset. They will be assisted in this task by: Planetek, Enginsoft, The University of Bari and The University of Enna – KORE. This collaboration will trigger a renewed osmosis of methodologies, technological capabilities and innovative approaches between the world of research and the world of industry. Aeroporti di Puglia will exploit the project experience to introduce new services for future flight experimentation.
Ground technological systems will analyze data and geo-referenced images of the flown over territory sent by the sensors equipped by the SW4-SOLO. Images and data, fused and integrated with other data acquired by the Italian (COSMO-SkyMed) and European (COPERNICUS) satellite constellations, will be processed and analyzed with algorithm and innovative procedures developed from the most advanced Artificial Intelligence methods and technologies to provide useful information for territory management.
New Artificial Intelligence algorithms and applications will allow to analyze data in shorter time or even in real-time to optimize territory and emergencies management.
The Data Center ReCaS (national research infrastructure jointly managed by the University of Bari and the INFN) will provide a high-performance computing environment and will host prototype applications developed to reach the performance required by the emergencies. These developments will let the ReCaS Data Center better satisfy the innovation nneds of the aerospace system. The project also includes the study of new types of sensors to detect natural risks not yet sufficiently monitored (avalanches, volcanic and fire ashes). These results will be primarily realized by the CNR, The University of Bari, ENEA, Polytechnic of Bari, INFN and Planetek in collaboration with Leonardo and Vitrociset.
DTA is currently realizing a laboratory endowed with the most advanced systems for LVC (Live, Virtual, Constructive) simulation inside the Grottaglie airport (control tower building), with the cooperation of Leonardo, Telespazio, ENAV, Planetek, Enginsoft, Vitrociset and the University of Bari.
The laboratory will also be operational after the end of project RPASInAir, being one of its practical results, for the preparation and the validation of different types of RPAS aerial operations (VLOS, BVLOS, BRLOS) in ATM spaces.
The development of Concepts of Operation (CONOPS) and Concepts of Use (CONUSE) that consider the aircraft user’s requirements as well as all the necessary operations for the preparation of safe flights such as the Specific operations Risk Assessment (SORA), now essential for the design of RPAS operations, will also find support within the laboratory.
During the meeting, Antonio Zilli (DTA), RPASInAir project manager, and Alessandro Mura (Leonardo), technical-scientific lead, together with Gianluca Agresta (Leonardo), Annarita D’addabbo (CNR-IREA) and Francesco Loparco (University of Bari) have presented the Grottaglie Airport Testbed and the RPASinAir project to the representatives of ENAC, ASI, Corpo Nazionale
di VVFF and Italian Airforce Reparto Sperimental Volo. The programme, within which RPASInAir is rooted, has been illustrated with focus on the laboratory infrastructures (in installation phase), the realized research, the achieved objectives and those that will be pursued.
The present people showed concrete interest in the realized capacities and the project’s potentials.
They have exposed different needs that can be faced thanks to the acquired capacity of broader employment of remotely piloted systems and thanks to the applications of integrated analysis for aerial and satellite images. Furthermore, they also ensured their support for future experimental activities and for the creation of new opportunities for the development of the Grottaglie Airport Testbed. In particular, the firefighters have highlighted the necessity to acquire knowledge from above the areas struck by great catastrophes (like the Amatrice earthquake or the Rigopiano avalanche). This would make the rescue operations faster and more effective. ENAC instead has exposed the need to develop a wider knowledge on the technological capabilities of RPASs, on the Grottaglie Airport Testbed and on the adjacent territory in order to generally accelerate the authorization process for RPAS operations and, more specifically, allow a better exploitation of Grottaglie Airport’s infrastructures for experimental activities.
At the end of the meeting, in the person of the Project Manager Antonio Zilli, the DTA expressed great satisfaction for the achieved results. The project is neatly and concretely proceeding towards the realization of the objectives and is strongly supporting the partners into the development of knowledge and innovative applications that can strengthen the European leadership of the Italian aerospace sector.
The laboratory for the simulation of aerial operations with RPAS is not only a tool the partnership employs to conclude the project but also an important asset for a more efficient realization of other running initiatives and for the planning of new initiatives. In this way, the whole aerospace regional and national system will carry on developing its leadership role on a European level. Alongside this,
the experimental results of the project will demonstrate the reachable benefits by exploiting unmanned air vehicles (UAV) for the management of natural risks, whether it is in a prevention phase or to coordinate the forces during emergency management operations or, lastly, to evaluate the impact of damages.