Textron Aviation recently received a special airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform civil unmanned aircraft operations in Blackstone, Virginia. These special certifications will allow the company to further test its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in a convenient location, thanks to its proximity to training facilities.
An airworthiness certificate issued by the FAA is a document that grants an individual or company permission to operate an aircraft within the United States. These documents can be further divided into two different classifications: Standard Airworthiness Certificates and Special Airworthiness Certificates. Standard certificates are issued to aircraft involved in things like acrobatic, commuter, and transport activities.
Meanwhile, special certificates are issued for a multitude of aircraft operation categories, including primary (aircraft flown for personal use), restricted (aircraft flown for purposes including agriculture, aerial surveillance, and weather control), and experimental (which involves research and development, crew training, exhibitions, and unmanned aircraft systems).
The airworthiness certificate Textron Aviation received is a special certificate (abbreviated as SAC-EC). It will allow the company to fly its Aerosonde MK 4.7G uncrewed aircraft system. With the ability to operate land-based and sea-based operations, the Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aircraft System uses features like full motion video (FMV), voice communications relay, signals and communications intelligence, 3D mapping, and automatic identification systems (AIS) to offer a variety of benefits to its customers. The aircraft has a wingspan of 12 feet and a range of 75 nautical miles, all while boasting a small footprint that does not require alterations to infrastructure on ships to accommodate it.
With this certification, Textron will operate research and development and training missions with its UAS. In addition to flight authorization, the company will be able to operate these flights conveniently close to the Unmanned Systems Service and Support Center in Blackstone, Virginia.
Wayne Prender, Senior Vice President of Textron Systems’ Air Systems business, highlighted his enthusiasm for and the benefits of this certification, explaining, “This is a significant achievement because of what it says about the safety of operating unmanned systems in the NAS. We’ve shown that our Aerosonde system achieves an equivalent level of safety compared to conventional aircraft. We’ve backed that up with more than 600,000 hours of flight time and over 3,000 aeronautical research flights conducted at KBKT airfield to support integration in the NAS.”
Obtaining this special certification required extensive work from Textron. In order to issue the certificate, the FAA must conclude that operations will not jeopardize public safety. Proving this meant Textron had to submit several vital documents, including items like safety checklists and operating manuals while hosting an onsite safety evaluation of every part of the UAS. With the FAA’s approval, Textron hopes to work with its operators to perform Visual Line of Sight training along with a variety of research missions in Class D, E, and G airspace.
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