NASA wants to bring more helicopter-style aircraft in the skies, with researchers having recently completed tests to simulate a facility where large volumes of vertical take-off and landing aircraft can operate.

NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) project helps emerging aviation markets to safely develop air transportation systems to move people and cargo with its High Density Vertiplex (HDV) subproject.

NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia, and its Ames Research Centre in California’s Silicon Valley, recently completed a series of HDV tests that marked the first milestone for AAM.

Researchers faced unique challenges in developing a prototype urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem that met key requirements, including automated systems for aircraft operations, airspace management, ground control and fleet management.

HDV technology lead Lou Glaab said: “Several aspects of UAM will require a different approach to aircraft operations, one of which is the anticipated high-density operations requiring many aircraft to simultaneously operate in an area.

“We expect air traffic density to go beyond current traffic levels at airports, which demands a more automated approach to air traffic management, so many traditional roles of an on-board pilot will need to be automated, such as traffic collision avoidance, health monitoring, and emergency landings.”

Another major challenge for HDV is developing proposed flight operations for remotely piloted aircraft in urban areas beyond their operators’ line-of-sight. Researchers used aircraft operating at Langley’s City Environment Range Testing for Autonomous Integrated Navigation, first by simulation and then live.

While the aircraft was flying at the Langley range, pilots were controlling them remotely from Ames’ Airspace Operations Laboratory, while the team members acting as simulated fleet and vertiport managers worked from a third facility; Ames’ Autonomous Vehicles Operations Laboratory.

“The vertiport manager could perform tasks such as simulated vertiport closures to trigger vehicle re-routes to alternate vertiports,” Glaab continued.

Yet another HDV objective was to demonstrate automated capabilities while still flying within visual line-of-sight. Some of the testing scenarios included standard A to B flights, flights that got re-routed to alternate vertiports, simulated emergencies, and flight tests with multiple vehicles performing autonomous ‘detect-and-avoid’ functions.

These flight tests were also performed using extended visual line of sight operations with ground control station operators in Langley’s Remote Operations for Autonomous Missions interacting with the fleet managers and vertiport managers at Ames’ labs.

Ames acting subproject manager for HDV Jeff Homola said: “These operations have to be well-coordinated and resilient to disruptions in order to achieve the activities we anticipate, so our team is focusing its efforts on developing, testing, and evaluating the systems and technologies to give the industry an insight into this future.”

Last month, Electra.aero was selected as a partner in NASA’s (AAM) National Campaign, which aims to integrate air taxis, cargo delivery, and other advanced aircraft concepts into US airspace.

The month before, Joby Aviation announced that its full-size pre-production aircraft successfully demonstrated its low noise profile, following acoustic testing completed with NASA, where the aircraft registered the equivalent of 45.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA) from an altitude of 500 metres at 100 knots airspeed.