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Unmanned Aircraft on Track to be Commercial by 2015

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) – It’s a technology that’s made news for years: unmanned aircraft. Think missiles, remote controlled airplanes and drones. But imagine flying a commercial jet by remote control from the ground.

“We’re trying to help industry as well as other government agencies to get unmanned aircraft integrated into the National Airspace System,” said NASA’s Jim Griner.

That’s the challenge Rockwell Collins and NASA are working to overcome.

A big part of making sure that using unmanned aircraft over public land is safe is determining how well that aircraft can stay in contact with area radio towers.

Griner and his NASA team are working closely with Rockwell Collins to test the communication systems between operators on the ground and the aircraft in the air.

Once the requirements can be standardized, the FAA could allow the aviation industry to start using them. Not with big jets immediately, but mostly likely for the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that pilots have to do now.

“Things like firefighting,” said the Rockwell Collin’s Principle Investigator on the joint project with NASA John R. Moore. “The Bureau of Land Management wants to fly them for herd management, atmospheric research.”

And the jobs that pilots simply can not do.

“Long endurance type of missions so where you want an aircraft on station for a long period of time,” said Griner. “You can’t really have a pilot onboard for days or weeks.”

As for military drones, they already have the technology. The goal is to bring it into commercial aviation.

“Those are completely capable aircraft that are just being piloted from the ground rather than from the cockpit,” said Moore.

Keeping pilots safely planted on the ground.

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