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Abstract

Sighting reports of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation stakeholders have continued to rise since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began tracking in 2014. In 2018, the FAA received 2,307 such reports, with 22.8% (n = 526) occurring during the final approach phase of flight. The threat of a midair collision between a manned aircraft and UAS is heightened during the final approach phase of flight, as the aircraft transitions from higher-altitude airspace to the low-altitude arena, now shared with drones. Absent UAS sense and avoid systems, pilots are forced to rely on visual senses and scanning techniques to ensure the approach path remains clear of UAS incursions. This research evaluated the effectiveness of pilot visual detection of a multirotor UAS during five approach to landing scenarios in which an unmanned aircraft created an incursion into the approach path. During the scripted approach scenarios, the UAS either remained stationary or maneuvered laterally. Both aircraft and UAS were separated by established vertical safety margins and protocols to avoid an actual collision. Overall, participants detected the UAS during 30% of the approaches. The static UAS was only detected during 13.6% of the approaches, at a mean range of 647 ft. The detection rate improved to 50% when the drone was in motion, with a mean detection range of 1,593 ft. Vector data was calculated to determine the detection angle of UAS sightings, with the majority of successful detections occurring within 5˚ laterally and 10˚ vertically of center. Qualitative comments were solicited from the participants and evaluated for trends. Forty percent of the participants indicated that moving UAS are easier to spot. Other trends related to UAS contrast, object misidentification, and detection aspect angle were also identified by the participants. The authors emphasized that based on the recorded detection distance, pilots would only have a limited margin of error to successfully execute evasive maneuvers, based on the FAA’s Recommended Minimum Reaction Time Required for Evasion criteria.

Full-text will be available October 30, 2019 at approximately 10:00 AM Eastern.

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