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Advanced Air Mobility: Our Experience

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is focused on enabling Advanced Air Mobility into the national airspace. (NASA image/Patricia Ventura Diaz)
The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is focused on enabling Advanced Air Mobility into the national airspace. (NASA image/Patricia Ventura Diaz) 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center team is working with sponsors, including FAA, NASA, DOD, and other government agencies and industry innovators, to explore ways to safely and efficiently incorporate transformative technologies and emerging concepts into the National Airspace System (NAS).  

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) envisions a NAS where Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), such as small package-delivery drones, and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) aircraft, such as passenger or cargo--carrying air taxis, can operate safely over cities, suburban communities, and rural areas.  

The following outlines our experience in research and engineering related to AAM, which ranges from flight operations to surveillance, from modeling to simulation, and from automation to cybersecurity.  

Demonstration, Prototype, and Concept Research Projects

AAM Automation Research

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is working with NASA to study the integration of automated AAM aircraft into the NAS. NASA asked the U.S. DOT Volpe Center to conduct a study related to the integration of increasingly automated AAM aircraft with a focus on proposing a realistic evolution to greater automation and interoperability with existing (i.e., piloted and conventional) traffic.  

DOD AAM In-flight Design, Fabrication, and Demonstration  

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center worked on behalf of DOD to design, fabricate, and test a single-seat, multi-rotor prototype AAM. The Oversized Flying Platform (OFP) is a single-seat, electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft built using off-the-shelf parts. A small, multi-disciplinary team designed, built, and flew the aircraft, which successfully flew under its own power and performed a series of climbs and descents and changes in pitch, roll, and yaw under the direction of remote pilots and while constrained by varying lengths of from one to four safety tethers.  

AAM m:N Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program 

The Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (known as m:N) seeks to minimize the number of operators (or “m”) needed in managing and controlling multiple UAM and UAS aircraft (or “N”).  

Airborne Collision Avoidance System – Rotary  

On behalf of the FAA Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System Program Office (AJM-42), the U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) committee’s Airborne Collision Avoidance System – Rotary (ACAS Xr) Working Group. This group is tasked with the analysis of technical questions from an operator perspective for traditional and future use cases, as well as development and/or vetting of operational scenarios and concepts. The projected focus is on alert guidance (aural and visual), a Concept of Use review, as well as other ACAS Xr Working Group requests.   

Stochastic, High-speed, High-fidelity NAS Modeling & Simulation 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is supporting the development of SUSAN X1, one of NASA’s Convergent Aeronautical Solutions (CAS) projects. The SUSAN X1 efforts are focused on future hybrid/electric propulsion designs for regional transport aircraft with the results and data collected used to inform upcoming decisions regarding potential flight demonstrators and technology maturation efforts. This effort directly supports the purpose of NASA’s CAS program, which is to increase innovation in aviation and to help industry look far down the road at seemingly improbable, challenging ideas that might lead to solutions to some of the problems aviation faces today. 

Single-aisle Future Hybrid/Electric Transport Aircraft Concept 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is supporting the development of SUSAN X1, one of NASA’s Convergent Aeronautical Solutions (CAS) projects. The SUSAN X1 efforts are focused on future hybrid/electric propulsion designs for regional transport aircraft with the results and data collected used to inform upcoming decisions regarding potential flight demonstrators and technology maturation efforts. This effort directly supports the purpose of NASA’s CAS program, which is to increase innovation in aviation and to help industry look far down the road at seemingly improbable, challenging ideas that might lead to solutions to some of the problems aviation faces today. 

Advanced Future AAM Scenarios Development 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center conducted research developing future advanced manufacturing scenarios as the basis for subsequent, dependent NASA research and development efforts as a follow-on to previous advanced aircraft manufacturing research study delivered in 2019. 

MassDOT AAM Systems Engineering Support 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center has provided system engineering support to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) for various state DOT-level AAM research initiatives, specific to UAM, UAS, and counter unmanned aerial systems (cUAS).  

FAA ATO UAM/AAM Research Support 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center supported FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Aeronautical Information Systems in a variety of future-looking airspace and rulemaking considerations related to UAM and AAM.  

FAA sUAS Tower Visibility Study 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center supported FAA in a human factors field test of air traffic controllers’ ability to spot small UASs (sUAS). 

UAM Vertiport Report 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center conducted a study of locations and water-borne capacities (for floating), building-top, and highway-adjacent vertiports for UAM use. 

FAA UAS Expert Elicitation Exercise 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center participated as a subject matter expert (SME) in a one-day Expert Elicitation (EE) Workshop as part of FAA’s effort to establish standardized EE practices for the purposes of risk-informed rulemaking. Directed by the Aviation Safety Branch (AVP-210) of FAA’s Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention, the EE Workshop provided SME input to the Integrated Safety Risk Assessment Model (ISAM) to help establish risk for a sUAS scenario. This exercise was meant to test whether this proposed EE process works as intended and if it can be standardized to help make risk-informed rulemaking decisions in the future.   

Regional Air Mobility (RAM) / X-57 Distributed Electric Propulsion Experimental Aircraft 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s work on this project seeks to determine how electrified regional air transportation will affect cargo and passenger mobility and how it will affect the Nation’s energy supply, distribution, and resilience. The study is planned to include airplanes seating as few as three passengers and up to 30 (with a baseline at nine) being used for trips under 500 miles (with an emphasis on the 50- to 250-mile trip size).   

Helicopter Noise 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center provided helicopter pilot expertise to a project developing web-based training on Fly Neighborly procedures including noise research and basics, standard operating procedures, tactics, techniques, and procedures, and Future Actions from the Fly Neighborly perspective.  

FAA UAS Research Inventory and Mapping System Prototype  

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is supporting FAA in the development of an early phase demo of a UAS Research Inventory and Mapping (RIM) System prototype. RIM provides UAS researchers with a tool to share research information, plans, and products for all relevant past, present, and planned UAS research and development work. RIM is not only for FAA to track planned, ongoing, and completed research but also to assist FAA, NASA, DOD, and other organizations in sharing the awareness of UAS research, leveraging existing research, collaborating with each other and avoiding duplicate efforts, identifying research gaps, and supporting UAS research management, rulemaking, and policy development. 

Additional AAM Research 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is supporting efforts across the Center to share information and innovative developments, including aircraft selection tech memo production, flight time calculations and interpretation, AAM operation cost data, vertiport approaches and corridor enroute altitudes, communication, navigation, and surveillance/air traffic control (CNS/ATC) research, and eVTOL battery research. 

Publications and Committee Memberships  

AIAA/IEEE Digital Avionics Systems Conference 2022 – Best of Session, Multimodal/Vertiport Design Session, AAM/UAM Track  

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s 41st Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC), the preeminent international R&D conference in the field of digital avionics offered by two distinguished professional societies began highlighting the AAM/UAM track in 2022 with a conference theme of: Roadmap for Increasingly Autonomous Systems in Air Transportation. Within the AAM/UAM, track, the Multimodal/Vertiport Design session highlights the importance of applying a multimodal lens for the success and enablement of these new airspace entrants. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center paper “UAM and Total Mobility Innovation Framework and Analysis Case Study: Boston Area Digital Twin and Economic Analysis” received Best of Session recognition. This work was conducted in 2021, made possible through the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s ongoing series of Volpe Innovation Accelerator (VIA) projects. 

Drone Safety Team  

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the Drone Safety Team (DST), formerly the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST). The DST is a joint government-industry collaboration whose mission is to examine data, engage a wide variety of UAS industry stakeholders, and develop safety enhancement recommendations designed to support the improvement of operational safety in the UAS industry.   

Society of Flight Test Engineers and Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL Aircraft Flight Test Council 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the eVTOL Flight Test Council. The mission of this Council is to be a forum for flight testers of eVTOL aircraft, which include AAM and UAM aircraft. The Council encompasses all piloting options and is primarily focused on aircraft larger than the FAA Part 107 55-lb. weight limit. The Council aims to achieve the highest practical level of safety and regulation relevant to the eVTOL flight test profession in three mutually beneficial areas relevant to flight test: safety, rulemaking, and efficiency. 

AAM Design and Flight Operating Characteristics  

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center developed a two-part presentation to allow AAM and other new NAS entrant project staff gain a better understanding of how AAM/UAM aircraft operate, how they differ, and how they are similar to conventional aircraft. This presentation also featured commentary on information provided by AAM/UAM Original Equipment Manufacturers. 

General Aviation Joint Steering Committee Safety Enhancement 33 Working Group 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), a public-private partnership working to improve general aviation safety. The GAJSC uses a data-driven, consensus-based approach to analyze aviation safety data and develop risk reduction efforts. The GAJSC’s goal is to reduce the GA fatal accident rate.  The Safety Enhancement 33 Working Group is the GAJSC’s Safety Culture Working Group. 

Society of Automotive Engineers’ Modeling, Simulation, and Training for Emerging Aviation Technologies and Concepts Technical Standards Committee 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Modeling, Simulation, and Training for Emerging Aviation Technologies and Concepts Technical Standards Committee (G-35). G-35 has a primary focus on AAM aircraft and is tasked to develop aerospace industry information reports and recommended practices and standards for modeling, simulation, and training (MST) related to emerging aviation technologies and concepts. The MST Committee is developing industry consensus standards for aircraft, including new-market piloted and remotely piloted aircraft, leading to aircraft potentially operated autonomously in support of certification regulations. In addition, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center participate as members of G-35 Subcommittee 2, with a focus on flight simulation training device qualifications, and Subcommittee 3, with a focus on aviator certification and licensing.   

Advanced Aircraft Manufacturing Study  

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center researched and delivered the report Examination of Global Aircraft Manufacturing Advances and Technologies as part of an effort to assess the state of technology of rapid/advanced aircraft manufacturing. Some of the factors impacting the state of include the growing worldwide demand for personal and business travel necessitating that commercial aircraft manufacturers dramatically increase production rates for popular models within the next 20 years, the evolving desire for UAM, which is expected to lead to markets for single- and multi-occupant vehicles, and package delivery, which will require automobile-like production efficiencies while still meeting strict regulatory structures and materials performance requirements similar to those for commercial aviation.   

UAS Cybersecurity Working Group 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the UAS Cybersecurity Working Group. We have delivered briefings on blockchain/UAS to the group, which is composed of more than 250 UAS cybersecurity subject matter experts from U.S. DOT, DOD, NASA, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and other government agencies. 

NASA AAM Ecosystem Aircraft Working Group 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the NASA AAM Ecosystem Aircraft Working Group. 

U.S. Helicopter Safety Team 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is a member of the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team’s Human Factors Working Group. 

UAS Flight Test for Safety and Efficiency 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s UAS Flight Test for Safety and for Efficiency was published in the proceedings of the 15th NASA Integrated Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance (ICNS) Conference & Workshop 2017 and demonstrates selected applications of flight-test procedures to the development and operation of UASs using a small rotorcraft UAS (a quadcopter) and a surrogate for a large fixed-wing UAS. The limited flight tests reveal areas for design improvements to potentially enhance safety, provide insights into UAS and manned-aircraft equipage differences, enable potentially safer operational flight profiles, and facilitate more-efficient flight regimes. These sample studies show promise for the use of conventional flight-test techniques in the design of UAS flight procedures and in the design of the UAS itself. This work was awarded “Best Paper of Session.” 

UAS and Blockchain Research 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center recently published Blockchain for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Contributions to AEDT’s Rotorcraft Performance Model (RPM) Report 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center contributed to a recent AEDT report by reviewing and providing a summary of rotorcraft performance and flight profiles. 

Future-looking FAA Research 

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center recently published research as Survey of Emerging Aviation Technologies: Appendix to Airspace Roadmap, AJV-11, Airspace Policy and Regulations Group. 

Last updated: Monday, August 22, 2022