Researchers and drone industry veterans in the UK are coming together to create a National Beyond Visual Line of Sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) in the skies above Bedfordshire, England.
As part of the project, drones will be able to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft. The plans were announced by Blue Bear Systems Research and Cranfield University, an institution exclusively for postgraduate that specializes in transformational research in technology.
The drone experimentation corridor will stretch across Bedfordshire from Blue Bear’s headquarters in Oakley to Cranfield University’s own airport. The two organizations will aim to combine the best of academia with the best of industry to create a UK first and what has been described as a “national asset”.
Integration, not segregation
In a statement released announcing the move, Blue Bear and Cranfield argue that “the key to future drone operations is not segregation, but unification ensuring fair and equitable use of airspace for all.”
As such, the aim of the NBEC will be to provide a safe, managed environment for drone and unmanned aircraft experimentation. The end goal is to devise a strategy for their integration into controlled and uncontrolled airspace.
Ian Williams-Wynn, Managing Director of Blue Bear, comments “The UK drone industry is going through an exciting evolution and is poised for growth. Operation under BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight), alongside co-operative and non-cooperative air traffic in a managed environment, provides a unique opportunity to maintain the UK at the forefront of drone application development and future adoption.”
Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said “The potential of drones and unmanned vehicles to boost UK productivity is well documented and the technology is well developed. However, there are understandable regulatory concerns that need to be overcome about how they operate alongside manned aircraft.
“In partnership with Blue Bear Systems Research, Cranfield is aiming to create an environment which will enable the UK to pioneer the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft.”
A safe space to test UTM concepts
Blue Bear and Cranfield will both use the NBEC to test and operate aerial systems, but the corridor will also be available for companies to come and test their UTM concepts. To begin with, part of the NBEC will be 5G enabled. Plans are in place to enable the entire corridor with 5G connectivity.
For those unfamiliar with the location of the experimental corridor, the majority of the corridor is rural. According to Cranfield University, this will allow “safe experimentation areas away from major roads and urban areas.”
It is close to the UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testing locations of Millbrook and Milton Keynes.