Wilmington Air Park, once abandoned by DHL, is brought to life by Amazon Air

Reporter: Matt Leonard

In 2020, 439 million pounds of cargo moved through Wilmington Air Park in Ohio. That makes it the third largest cargo-focused airport in the U.S. — “extensive cargo traffic but little or no passenger traffic” — according to an analysis of government data by researchers at DePaul University.

The facility has a history in cargo operations, but for a time in the early 2000s, Wilmington Air Park’s future didn’t look as bright as it does today.

In 2003, DHL acquired Airborne Express, which was headquartered in Wilmington, Ohio. DHL had about 6,000 employees, making it one of the largest employers in the region, according to the Courier.

DHL’s air hub was in Cincinnati before it acquired assets from Airborne Express. It had to decide which one to keep.

“It doesn’t make sense to operate two hubs that close together,” Michael Webber, the president of Webber Air Cargo, said in an interview. It went with Wilmington, integrating the hubs in 2005.

But a few years later, financial issues led DHL to make some tough decisions. It signed a $1 billion deal with UPS for its “archrival” to carry its airfreight, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Things were not looking good for Wilmington. As part of the reorganization, DHL moved its international business away from Wilmington, back to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. The decision resulted in a loss of 8,000 jobs, according to Wilmington Air Park.

“The deal contemplated by DHL and UPS creates a crisis unprecedented in the rural United States, much less in rural Ohio,” ABX Air and Air Transport Services Group CEO Joseph C. Hete said in written testimony submitted before a 2008 congressional hearing on the deal. “Never have so many jobs left such a rural region in so short a period of time.”

Cargo-first growth in Wilmington, Ohio
More than a decade later, Wilmington Air Park is one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. That’s in large part thanks to Amazon.

“We were confident that Wilmington has a big future of Amazon Air,” Joseph P. Schwieterman, the director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University and one of the authors of the report, said in an interview.

E-commerce is also helping to propel the growth of cargo-focused hubs, he said. These hubs have seen their traffic grow more than 31% YoY between 2019 and 2020, Schwieterman found.

“The surge in at-home delivery has pushed supply chains to the max,” he said. “And cargo airports have been positioned well to take advantage of that.”

Wilmington is still relatively small compared to many other airports. Its 2019 cargo volume was less than 0.5% the size of the largest cargo hub in the U.S. — Memphis International. But off of this small base, Wilmington grew its cargo volume by nearly 289% YoY in 2020, according to the DePaul report.

The growth comes at a time when all eyes are — again — on Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky where Amazon has announced plans for an Air Hub. Wilmington is now the fifth-largest air hub in Amazon’s network, according to the DePaul analysis.

The quick growth was the result of the infrastructure built by Airborne Express and DHL that made it a viable option, Webber said.

“It would be much more challenging for an airport like Wilmington to meet the kind of demand [of Amazon] if you were starting from a Greenfield site with nothing on it,” he said. “But that’s an airport that already had a cargo hub in its history.”

That’s where Wilmington sees its future: cargo.

“We view ourselves unabashedly as a cargo first airport,” Executive Director of the Clinton County Port Authority Daniel Evers said.

Beth Huber, the associate director of the Clinton County Port Authority, said the facility’s location allows airlines to reach “60% to 70%” of the U.S. population with an hour-long flight. And it’s 10 minutes from Interstate 71, which allows quick access to Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, Evers said.

Amazon’s time in Wilmington dates back to 2015 when it first began a pilot project to determine the validity of an air cargo option.

Amazon “operated here for 18 months, found it to be very viable,” Evers said. After the pilot in Wilmington, Amazon made a decision to build the hub in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky.

“But a year later, the company contacted us and due to its growth and its need for additional capacity introduced the topic of returning to the Wilmington Airpark,” he said.

Wilmington replaced a dozen panels on the primary runway, repaired its taxiways and the ramp that serves the air cargo operations. Parking was added, two facilities were demolished, fencing was put up and navigational aids were updated. It amounted to “tens of millions of dollars” paid by the Port Authority and Amazon, Evers said.

Connecting flights, trucks and parcels
With the infrastructure in place, Amazon is able to connect to fulfillment centers in the region. Trucks can bring in deliveries to the airport from fulfillment centers that can be delivered next day to Columbus or Dayton. The sortation center at the airport allows for packages to come in on one flight or truck and leave on another flight or truck depending, on where in the country it might be headed, Evers said.

This has resulted in employment not only for Amazon’s sortation center, but also for the Air Park, he said. With a big customer in the facility operating 24/7, it now has to worry about things like being able to clear runways during a snowstorm in the middle of the night.

“There’s equipment investment, there’s staffing and investment in getting people trained and qualified to operate big snowplows,” Huber said.

With Amazon in town, Wilmington was able to take the title of the busiest aircargo hub in Ohio at the end of 2020, according to WVXU.

And Evers and Huber said they’re still talking with more prospective clients about coming to the airport. One benefit they present them with is the fact that they’re not in a large city, and there is plenty of room for new clients to build.

“We have the opportunity to grow and offer people either a spec space or a built-to-suit space, that is going to give them a little bigger footprint maybe than they might get in a metropolitan airport,” Huber said.

Parcels take to the sky
Not all of air cargo facilities are used for the same purpose. FedEx and UPS do more overnight flights to help facilitate overnight delivery. But Amazon Air’s networks appear to be designed for general inventory movements for replenishing fulfillment centers, Schwieterman said.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence that they’re shipping addressed packages heavily on Amazon Air,” he said. “They might be. But the flight network isn’t designed for … for airplane-to-airplane package transfers like FedEx and UPS.”

This could change when it opens up its air hub in Cincinnati, he said.

“The could be a strategic pivot where they recalibrate their network to be more like FedEx and UPS,” he said. “But there’s not a lot evidence of that yet.”

This airport has replaced its air traffic controllers with this digital tower

Not only travelers are entitled to numerous technological innovations at airports. In London City, England, the traditional control tower has given way to a new state-of-the-art tower that leaves no room for air traffic controllers.

The airport closest to central London has messed up the classic pattern by pushing back in a Hampshire village, the team of air traffic controllers about 140 kilometers away. A world first for an airport that is internationally qualified.

A 50 meter high tower with 16 cameras

To fend off the air traffic controllers in a control room a hundred kilometers away, it is better to have enough to watch the asphalt and the runway with a really keen eye. The London City project had a 50 meter tower with 16 high definition cameras developed by Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions.

In order to avoid inconceivable latency for such an activity, the cameras are connected to the control center via fiber optics. On site, the dispatchers have a large screen (consisting of 14 screens) to visualize the entire airport and its activities. The little extra: the integration of additional information on moving aircraft (speed, altitude, call sign) and weather data.

In Sweden, an equivalent system was tested at Örnsköldsvik and Sundsvall airports. Indeed, London City is the first international airport to delegate its entire organization to these air traffic controllers 140 kilometers away and this state-of-the-art digital mast.

The UK airport has only one runway and the work of air traffic controllers will not be the same as that at Heathrow Airport. On the other hand, according to London City Airport Operations Manager Alison FitzGerald, this type of smart camera could help support the surge in air traffic.

“This investment in smart infrastructure will help us meet future growth in passenger demand, improve air traffic management and improve our capabilities as aviation recovers from the pandemic,” she said. British Airways, the airport’s largest customer, will serve the airports in Ibiza and San Sebastian for Spain and Mykonos and Santorini for Greece.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Service: USN Speed: Mach 1.7 Range: 1,275 nm Armament: One M61A1/A2; AIM 9 Sidewinder, AIM-9X, AIM 7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Harpoon, Harm, SLAM, SLAM-ER, Maverick missiles; Joint Stand-Off Weapon; Joint Direct Attack Munition; Data Link Pod; Paveway Laser Guided Bomb
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is the U.S. Navy’s primary strike and air superiority aircraft. It is an updated version of the F-18C/D, featuring a 20 percent larger airframe, 7,000 lb heavier empty weight, and 15,000 lb heavier maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33 percent more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41 percent and endurance by 50 percent over the earlier Hornet.

The F/A-18 E/F acquisition program was an unparalleled success. The aircraft emerged from Engineering and Manufacturing Development meeting all of its performance requirements on cost, on schedule and 400 pounds under weight. All of this was verified in Operational Verification testing, the final exam, passing with flying colors receiving the highest possible endorsement.

The first operational cruise of Super Hornet, F/A-18 E, was with VFA-115 onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on July 24, 2002, and saw initial combat action on Nov. 6, 2002, when they participated in a strike on hostile targets in the “no-fly” zone in Iraq.

Super Hornet, flew combat sorties from Abraham Lincoln during Southern Watch, demonstrating reliability and an increased range and payload capability. VFA 115 embarked aboard Lincoln expended twice the amount of bombs as other squadrons in their airwing (with 100% accuracy) and met and exceeded all readiness requirements while on deployment. The Super Hornet cost per flight hour is 40% of the F-14 Tomcat and requires 75% less labor hours per flight hour.

The forward fuselage is unchanged from the C/D Hornet, but the remainder of the aircraft shares little with earlier F/A-18C/D models. The fuselage was stretched by 34 inches to make room for fuel and future avionics upgrades and increased the wing area by 25%. However, the Super Hornet has 42% fewer structural parts than the original Hornet design. The General Electric F414 engine, developed from the Hornet’s F404, has 35% additional thrust over most of the aircraft’s flight envelope. The Super Hornet can return to an aircraft carrier with a larger load of unspent fuel and munitions than the original Hornet.

Other differences include approximately rectangular intakes for the engines and two extra wing hard points for payload (for a total of 11), retaining previous hardpoints on the bottom centerline, wingtips, and two conformal fuselage positions. Among the most significant aerodynamic changes are the enlarged leading edge extensions which provide improved vortex lifting characteristics in high angle of attack maneuvers, and reduce the static stability margin to enhance pitching characteristics. This results in pitch rates in excess of 40 degrees per second, and high resistance to departure from controlled flight.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is an attack aircraft as well as a fighter through selected use of external equipment and advanced networking capabilities to accomplish specific missions. This “force multiplier” capability gives the operational commander more flexibility in employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario. In its fighter mode, it serves as escort and fleet air defense. In its attack mode, it provides force projection, interdiction, and close and deep air support.

Air Mobility Command stands down C-5 flying operations at Dover AFB

Air Mobility Command has directed a stand-down of C-5s at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the command announced Tuesday.

Gen. Carlton Everhart, AMC commander, halted flying operations for the massive aircraft on Monday following a second malfunction of C-5 nose landing gear within the past 60 days, according to a news release.

There are 18 of the transport aircraft assigned to Dover Air Force Base — 12 primary aircraft and six backup. The Air Force fleet has 56 C-5s, but the stand-down only affects the Delaware base, the release said.

During the stand-down, AMC will perform inspections to “ensure the proper extension and retraction of the C-5 nose landing gear,” according to the release.

“Aircrew safety is always my top priority and is taken very seriously,” Everhart said in the release. “We are taking the appropriate measures to properly diagnose the issue and implement a solution.”

Air Mobility Command said it will release additional information as it becomes available.

Charlsy Panzino covers the Guard and Reserve, training, technology, operations and features for Army Times and Air Force Times.

Fighter squadron moves, range upgrades critical to ready pilots for peer combat, Rand says

The Air Force has determined that few, if any, existing training ranges have the capability to provide fighter pilots with advanced training.

To prepare fighter pilots across the force for peer combat, many squadrons should move and many ranges will need expensive upgrades, according to a new study from the Rand Corp.

The study, “Fighter Basing Options to Improve Access to Advanced Training Ranges,” estimates the costs of restationing units, upgrading ranges and adding virtual training to get squadrons the appropriate, advanced training they’ll need in future fights.

And as aircraft get more advanced, so does the need for such advanced ranges. Half of all range events for the F-35 require an advanced range. More than one-third of events for the F-22, nearly one-quarter for the F-16 and 19 percent for the F-15 and 16 percent for the A-10.

As they have broken down the need, based on aircraft, report authors also weighted the effectiveness of training for those platforms on total training.

For example, because so much more of their training requires high-capability ranges, the most effective move is to have F35s stationed alongside such ranges. Meaning, putting a single F-35 squadron within access of the appropriate complex range provides equal effectiveness as putting three total squadrons of either the F-15C, F-15E or A-10.

To accomplish this, the authors recommend that a squadron not within the 150 nautical mile range of an upgraded range should be moved to a base within that distance. That distance allows for enough time at the range for required training in addition to transit time to reach the site.

They also recommended that lower weighted aircraft, such as the A-10 Warthog be swapped out with higher-weighted aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II.

That will be helpful for the F-35s and F-22s but not as much for the F-15s and A-10s, which still have an important operational role to fill.

Authors stopped short of listing specific basing changes, citing a need to resolve training and basing details. The Air Force needs to finish defining range requirements and capacity, which will lay out how much time each type of squadron will need to train on the new ranges.

The following ranges were listed, in priority, in the RAND report for needed upgrades:

1. Nevada Test and Training Range

2. Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex

3. Utah Test and Training Range

4. Belle Fourche Electronic Scoring Site Range

5. Poinsett Range

6. Elgin Test and Training Complex

7. Adirondack Range

8. Mountain Home Range Complex

9. Hardwood Range

10. Smoky Hill Range

11. Air Force Dare County Range

12. Snyder Electronic Warfare Site

13. Grand Bay Range

14. Melrose Range

15. Barry M. Goldwater Range

16. Warren Grove Range

17. Claiborne Range

A combination of 15 or more planned range upgrades and 10 to 20 squadron moves results in a 90 percent effectiveness score.

Some trade-offs between the two overhauls would still manage a 70 percent rating. Those include 15 to 17 ranges upgraded and no squadrons moved or six to eight ranges upgraded but 15 to 20 squadrons moved.

The best outcome for restationing, though, comes when at least half of the ranges are upgraded. That’s because if not enough ranges are upgraded then there are not enough bases within the set 150 nm distance of a range.

Adding Air National Guard units in the moves to active bases further increases the effectiveness of the restationing models. If ANG units are not allowed to move to upgraded ranges, it will hamper overall effectiveness because much of the fighter force is in the ANG.

The F-35 squadron at Fort Worth, Texas is not near any of the 17 ranges, so it is moved essentially in all solutions, typically to Eielson AFB, Alaska or Hill AFB, Utah.

“The largest opportunity to improve readiness in the long term is integrating the range modernization plan and the F-35 rollout,” according to the report.

To strike a balance, the report recommends that the Air Force estimate long-term costs for range modernizations to determine the total number it can afford to upgrade and compare that with the “cost and institutional challenges of restationing squadrons.”

Those costs are not just for the pilots and aircraft. The Air Force must consider the squadron, operations support, aircraft, equipment, component and munitions maintenance that goes along with the unit, both personnel attached and infrastructure upgrades.

Personnel move costs alone were estimated at $13 million per squadron, just to move the people. Added infrastructure for personnel was estimated at $25.3 million per squadron.

Depending on the type of aircraft in the squadron, infrastructure restationing costs range between $63 million and $92 million per squadron.

Those figures amount to an estimated total cost of $101 million to $130 million to re-station a single squadron.

Range upgrade costs estimated at $1.2 billion for research, development, test and evaluation funding. Two ranges highlighted, NTTR and JPARC, that will receive the most advanced capabilities, will cost roughly $1 billion. The other 15 ranges listed will cost between $120 million and $220 million each.

The average range upgrade, not including the two prioritized ranges, equals $165 million, nearly the average cost of restationing a squadron, $130 million.

But, the authors noted, the Air Force will likely get more for their money on the range upgrades as more squadrons will be able to use the range than simply restationing a single squadron instead of doing a range upgrade.

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia and Tyndall AFB, Florida received additional attention as both are under environmental threat with an estimated three- to seven-foot sea-level rise in the coming decades, given their coastal proximity.

As the force builds its new F-35 squadrons, stationing them within the recommended distance of the advanced ranges should be easier since there would be “fewer institutional constraints compared with existing forces.”

Report authors made the following recommendations:

• Prioritizing a range upgrade near an F-22 base and consolidating F-22 squadrons. This would require a more detailed analysis of airfield capacity issues, range capacity, and availability constraints.

• Coordinating the introduction of new F-35 squadrons, retirement of legacy aircraft, and range upgrades to ensure that F-35 squadrons would have range access at the earliest possible time.

• Developing a training strategy that outlines how much training would be required at each range capability level to better understand how much range capacity would be required and then evaluate restationing against other potential solutions.

• Developing full life cycle cost estimates for range modernization to understand the number of ranges that would be affordable over the long term and how those costs would compare with the cost and institutional challenges of restationing squadrons.

• Collecting and incorporating relevant risk data, such as hazard exposure maps, climate data, and electric power reliability metrics, in basing decisions.

Another add on to help bring squadron training up to snuff might be the use of Live Virtual Constructive simulators paired with available range access. Though that too presents its own challenges as currently, just three bases have such simulators.

Just doing range upgrades will only give a portion of fighter squadrons the access they need for advanced training. Restationing can greatly increase fighter squadron effectiveness, but authors note that will depend on Air Force leadership’s willingness to make and manage those changes.

But authors did identify a short-term benefit that would come from consolidating F-22 squadrons near an upgraded range. That would mean moving up the Joint Base Langley-Eustis in the upgrade priority rankings or converting a fourth-generation fighter base nearby to a high-priority range for those F-22 squadrons.

As the Air Force rolls out its F-35 squadrons, the basing of those units near the upgraded ranges will provide the most benefits toward meeting effectiveness goals.

But even these major moves might not be enough.

Even with range upgrades and restationing, the Air Force will still need to develop graduated training requirements so that more basic tasks can be completed in concert with advanced training events, keeping the entire force at an effective level.

Conclusions listed in the report:

* Range upgrades alone can provide only a portion of fighter squadrons with access to advanced training ranges. Restationing could significantly increase access, but the amount would depend on institutional freedom to make restationing decisions. Most significantly, if Air National Guard squadrons cannot be consolidated near advanced training ranges, the potential benefits of restationing would be substantially limited.

• Using the current basing posture and planned range upgrades, the F-22 squadrons may not have access to advanced training ranges.

• The largest opportunity to improve readiness in the long term is integrating the range modernization plan and the F-35 rollout.

• The one-time cost for restationing a fighter squadron and the cost to procure equipment for a single range modernization are on the same order of magnitude. However, when research and development and operation and sustainment costs are taken into account, range upgrades may be substantially more expensive over the long term. Upgrading a single range may provide access for more than one squadron, and a cost-effectiveness assessment should be conducted that accounts for the life cycle range modernization costs.

• There is significant variability in electric power reliability and exposure to natural hazards and climate effects across USAF fighter bases and ranges that might require different levels of investment to recover from or mitigate disruptions.

How Air Traffic Control Co-Ordinates Arrivals

Busy airports have aircraft landing constantly – more than one a minute at the busiest. How are all these landings controlled? The well-developed solution lies in the passing of aircraft between different air traffic control centers. By the time they arrive for approach at the airport, they should be well planned, spaced, informed and ready to land.

Airborne flights – controlled by several centers

Aircraft are controlled during flight by different centers depending on their location. In the US these are known as Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC). Names and rules change between countries, but the general principle is the same. As aircraft leave one control center, they will be passed to (and establish contact with) the next one.

These centers will control aircraft on their routes, provide information as needed and ensure minimum separation between aircraft. Smaller aircraft flying under visual flight rules (VFR) can receive closer monitoring and routing assistance.

As their route progresses control is passed from between centers. Controllers ‘hand over’ the aircraft to the next appropriate center and notify the aircraft with the next center and frequency to contact. This process continues until the aircraft is approaching its destination airport.

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Movement near an airport

The airspace close to airports is usually controlled by a separate control facility, often referred to as terminal or approach control. This will handle all departing and arriving flights within a specified zone – usually around 50 to 90 kilometers around the airport, and up to a specified altitude. Close airports may share one such control.

As an arriving aircraft approaches its destination it will be switched to this center which will coordinate approach, spacing, and holding as needed to control flow to the airport.

Within the US these centers are known as terminal radar approach control (TRACON). In the UK, airspace is controlled by the London Area Control Center (LACC) at Swanwick. This provides a single control service to aircraft across a wide area, but internally breaks its control into separate sectors.

For arriving aircraft, terminal control will set aircraft up for approach and then transfer to the appropriate airport control. When leaving terminal control airspace, aircraft will be appropriately spaced and guided to the correct altitude and speed for their approach.

Approach and landing – controlled by the airport tower

Once aircraft begin the approach to the airport they will be passed to the airport control tower. The tower usually controls all aircraft movements on the approach and departure from the airport (within around 9 to 18 kilometers) and on the ground at the airport.

Of course, the tower is usually located at the airport, but this is starting to change. The world’s first remote tower opened in 2019 in Sweden. Scandinavian Mountains Airport will be linked via camera feeds to an ATC center around 350 kilometers away at Sundsvall. As part of a major redevelopment, London City airport will also develop remote tower facilities for control from Swanwick.

Control at the tower, of course, is visual as well as system based. ‘Air control’ will have a view of the active runways and approve landing, take-offs and other movements based on this. They will also maintain the appropriate sequencing and separation already started by approach control. In the event of a missed approach or go-around, aircraft will be returned and re-sequenced either by the tower or approach as necessary for each airport.


FAA Rule Clears Path for Supersonic Flight Tests

Supersonic airliner developer Boom is planning to flight test its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator to gather data that would be used in the development of the Mach 2.2 Overture airliner. (Photo: Boom Supersonic)
The FAA took another step toward facilitating the development of civil supersonic aircraft with the release of a final rule today that clarifies procedures for obtaining special flight authorizations for flight testing beyond Mach 1.

Adopted largely as proposed in June 2019, the final rule outlines the information needed for applications of special flight authorization and designates the FAA program office that will process those applications. It also creates a more “user-friendly” format, the agency said. The rule further recognizes that supersonic flight testing could be used to gather noise data.

However, the rule does not lift the ban on supersonic flight over land. Nor does it represent a policy change; instead, the rule streamlines and simplifies access to the various information necessary for special flight authorizations.

The FAA did revise language in the final rule involving the environmental review process. It had originally proposed language to clarify information necessary for the FAA to make a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) determination. However, after receiving comments, the agency found the language actually generated confusion.

“The proposed language providing more detail about what an applicant could submit was not intended to imply that FAA would forego independently evaluating the information or closely examining the environmental impacts on a proposed test area in determining whether to grant a particular special flight authorization,” the agency said. “The language was also not intended to imply shifting the burden of complying with NEPA to the applicant rather than the FAA.”

According to the FAA, a number of requests in comments surrounding the ability for more than one program to use a designated test site were received. In response, the FAA said the application process provides latitude for requesting such test sites and added regulations do not limit a flight test area to one applicant. However, each applicant is expected to submit its own environmental information regarding a test site.

That comes as the FAA has reached an agreement with the state of Kansas establishing a supersonic flight-test corridor.

Meanwhile, the agency dismissed more general opposition from environmental groups and certain municipalities about possible harm supersonic operations could have on the environment. These arguments are outside the scope of the rule, the FAA maintained, adding the final rule does not permit regular supersonic operations.

However, in simplifying the approach for special issuance applications, the agency is helping pave a path toward the return of civil supersonic flight. It is one of several steps the FAA is taking, including working with international regulators, as well as developing a separate rulemaking altogether regarding takeoff and landing noise certification standards.

“Today’s action is a significant step toward reintroducing civil supersonic flight and demonstrates the [Transportation] Department’s commitment to safe innovation,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in announcing the release of the final rule.

“The FAA supports the new development of supersonic aircraft as long as safety parameters are followed,” added FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The testing of supersonic aircraft at Mach 1 will only be conducted following consideration of any impact to the environment.”

FACC Starts Test Flights with Autonomous Aerial Vehicle EHang 216

FACC conducted the test flight of the EHang 216 at its plant site in St. Martin im Innkreis.

As a pioneer in the field of Urban Air Mobility, FACC is setting another important milestone in the development of future urban mobility together with its strategic partner EHang. The EHang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle produced by FACC has completed a successful test flight under the supervision of Austro Control and was granted an experimental flight permit by the Austrian authorities based on the tests performed. This milestone enables FACC to advance further important flight test programs in cooperation with other companies in the industry, research institutions and authorities.

The first test flight of the EHang 216 aircraft in national airspace was successfully carried out under the supervision of the Austrian aviation authority Austro Control at the FACC site in St. Martin im Innkreis (Austria). The close and professional cooperation between the specialist teams of Austro Control and FACC led to this milestone. With the successful completion of the system checks and the associated test flight, the aviation authority granted the experimental flight permit for the further execution of EHang 216 test flights.

“The successful completion of the test flight of our autonomous aerial vehicle in Austrian airspace marks the start of a comprehensive test program of the EHang 216, laying the foundation for the approval of an innovative, highly flexible and sustainable traffic and transport solution for urban agglomerations. I am very proud of the entire team and would like to congratulate them on this groundbreaking milestone,” commented Robert Machtlinger, CEO of FACC AG, after receiving the experimental flight permit for the EHang 216 in Austria.

Especially in the weeks leading up to the test flight, a large series of technical tests and inspections for the flight test unit were completed together with the EHang engineering team and the specialist team of Austro Control.

Autonomous aerial vehicle: development made in Austria

As part of the strategic partnership, FACC and EHang are contributing their respective resources and networks. EHang serves as an inventor and expert for all questions relating to autonomous flying and provides extensive know-how in the areas of connectivity and software solutions. FACC offers support in the field of high-tech hardware with the development, certification and manufacture of lightweight components and systems.

Cooperative activities with industrial partners, politics and aviation authorities are contributing to the further development of this innovative mobility solution. The authorities are working intensively on the design of regulations governing individual air traffic. The implementation of test areas in Austria is also being driven ahead.

“The field of application is complex and ranges from search and rescue services to supply flights for materials in hard-to-reach areas, ambulance flights and taxi flights in mega-cities. FACC and its strong network of innovative partner companies, public authorities, and universities, as well as the state of Austria, are pioneers in this field,” says Machtlinger.

Lighter, quieter, greener and suitable for many applications

The EHang 216 is an autonomous aerial vehicle which can realize vertical take-offs and landings and is powered by sixteen high-performance electric motors mounted on eight double rotor arms. This makes it an additional safe, quiet and environmentally friendly form of mobility. Highly efficient FACC lightweight structures ensure low weight and excellent aerodynamics, and make a significant contribution to the aircraft’s performance. With a range of about 40 kilometers, a maximum cargo capacity of 220 kilograms and a cruising speed of 130 kilometers per hour, the possible fields of use of the EHang 216, designed for two passengers, go far beyond passenger transport within and between cities. It is very well suited to logistics operations such as flights for transporting essential emergency goods or high-risk airborne missions in the event of environmental disasters.

The EHang 216 is currently the most advanced product on the market in the field of Urban Air Mobility. The autonomous aerial vehicle has already completed several thousand manned flight hours in China. In May, it received the world’s first commercial operation approval for logistic purposes from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). With the successful maiden flight of the EHang 216 in Austria, FACC and EHang have taken an important joint step towards establishing autonomous flying in Europe.

US Black Hawks could see robot co-pilots in 2021


What exactly is it?

The US Army and Sikorsky are converting a pair of UH-60 Black Hawks to use cutting-edge automation and fly-by-wire controls, with side-by-side formation flights, Breaking Defense reported.

Sikorsky’s automation work has been partially funded for several years by DARPA, which calls the program ALIAS, Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System.

Still don’t get it?

We’re talking a robotic co-pilot.

The idea is for the ALIAS systems of two aircraft to connect over a short-range, sharing data instantaneously, effectively letting each aircraft see through the others’ sensors and get a much bigger picture of the world, Breaking Defense reported.

Passing every bit and byte of data is impractical over a tactical datalink, so “we’re working on algorithms that allow us to synchronize the world models between all of these aircraft” so they can update each other while using minimal bandwidth, said Sikorsky Innovations director Igor Cherepinsky.

For example, two ALIAS helicopters coming in for a landing amidst a blinding dust storm could automatically warn each other of unexpected hazards and coordinate their movements to reroute around them and land safely, without hitting either the obstacles or each other, Breaking Defense reported.

Today that process would require a hasty back-and-forth over radio as pilots try to make sense of what their sensors are seeing and explain it; ALIAS could simply show both aircrews the same picture of their surroundings.

The ALIAS UH-60A is already flying and the ALIAS UH-60M will fly “sometime early next year,” Cherepinsky said. After that, the plan is for the two helicopters to fly together in formation –  Army aircraft rarely go in harm’s way alone – as part of a major Army exercise if possible.

“We are hoping to get these two aircraft to participate together in some Army exercise, [not] just test for test’s sake,” Cherepinsky said.

A successful demonstration could pave the way both for upgrades across the entire helicopter fleet – not just Black Hawks – and for the next-generation Future Vertical Lift aircraft, Breaking Defense reported.

Installing fly-by-wire also makes it possible for a computer to fly the aircraft or help a human to do so, potentially preventing deadly accidents due to human error.

Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin, makes the UH-60 – the modern-day mainstay of Army aviation – and is competing to build both the scout and transport versions of FVL.

“Everything that’s happening here,” Sikorsky Innovations director Igor Cherepinsky told reporters this morning, “is going into both of our FVL vehicles – and not just our FVL vehicles, it’s going across our entire product line.”

The company is already working with Erickson to install ALIAS on civilian S-64 helicopters used to fight fires, Breaking Defense reported.

As early as 2018, Sikorsky was able to take a person with no pilot training, hand them a tablet, give them 45 minutes of instruction, and let them control an ALIAS-equipped helicopter.

At that point, the computer was the one really flying the aircraft; the human was just telling it where to go – and they didn’t have to be aboard the aircraft to do that.

But replacing human pilots isn’t actually the primary goal of ALIAS. It’s designed to assist them, Breaking Defense reported.

Sometimes that may mean flying the aircraft while the crew rests, brainstorms tactics, or conducts mission planning. But sometimes it may mean helping them see through sandstorms and dust clouds by fusing sensor data into a clear picture of what’s ahead.

Or it may mean a human has their hands on the controls, but the computer can take over to avoid a collision or crash.

That combination of uninterrupted attention and split-second reaction times is something human brains don’t do well, but computers excel at.


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