Staff and students at Cranfield University and its Airport have completed a remote pilot course for flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of long-term planning for integrated airspace use by manned and unmanned aircraft.

The commercial UAV remote pilot course incorporated a ground school element for flight planning – covering principles of flight, rules and regulations of the air, using aviation charts, risk assessment and meteorology – and a flight assessment to check demonstration of basic pilot competence, including how to respond in an emergency and being able to operate safety features.

Rob Abbot, Director of Aviation Operations at Cranfield Airport, who completed the training with some of his team, said: “Integrating UAV operations with airport activities and manned aircraft operations is going to be key in the future as we look to unleash the potential of a modernised UK airspace. This training has given myself and my team a solid understanding of UAV operations and the issues around using unmanned aircraft.

“UAVs could potentially benefit manned aircraft operations in a number of ways, ranging from monitoring, maintenance and repair tasks to de-icing the wings of aircraft in cold weather conditions. At Cranfield, we are already looking at how we may be able to use them for runway and airfield perimeter inspections.”

The course was provided by Consortiq, who have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to provide approved UAV training, and was scheduled to help prepare students for the BAE UAV Swarm Challenge running again at Cranfield in March this year. 

Students who complete the course will receive CAA-approved certificates for the ground school and flight assessment elements.

Alex Williamson, Experimental Research Fellow in UAV Operations in the Centre for Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems, Cranfield University, said: “Providing this kind of hands-on training is invaluable in giving staff and students an insight into the operational considerations of flying unmanned aircraft, together with a working appreciation of regulations affecting their use. This experience has further grown Cranfield’s competency in this area. It also ensures staff and students can maximise their research potential with respect to UAVs.”

Around 40 students from the Autonomous Vehicle Dynamics and Control MSc and Applied Artificial Intelligence MSc courses took the training along with Airport and academic staff.

Regulations currently require UAVs to be operated within visual line of sight of the remote pilot at all times. Through the ongoing creation of the National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC), Cranfield University is also working with partners Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone to provide a safe, managed environment for UAV experimentation, ultimately working towards their unsegregated operation with manned aircraft in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.