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38 B etween the successful development of a prototype UAV and its commercial availability, there is a critical set of flight tests to assess and confirm the system’s ability to operate safely and to the parameters for the missions and environments its end-users require. A UAV’s reliability, operating performance and avionics functionality can be evaluated across various flight test plans to examine its operating range, endurance, navigation accuracy, comms and control interfacing, autonomous capability, payload performance and failure modes. While it is notable that flight tests for unmanned aircraft are not legally mandated in the way they are for manned aviation systems, many test centres have been established over the past several years. They are growing in popularity, as developers seek to take advantage of the ease and low cost of flight testing UAVs – especially in comparison to manned aircraft. This also helps avoid the potential safety and legal consequences of selling or operating a system that fails to perform as advertised. Variations in testing Despite this ease and affordability, however, there are factors that make it challenging to apply the same testing plans used by manned systems to unmanned ones. At a purely operational level, UAVs have far higher control sensitivities in the three axes than manned aircraft, owing to their smaller size and lower inertia. Also, given that they are remotely piloted via a radio link, there is no tactile force feedback at the operator’s control station to gauge flying quality – as a manned aircraft test pilot would have. That makes it difficult to assess factors such as vibration and responses to buffeting. The stability of flight testing paths is also challenging owing to factors such as a UAV’s increased vulnerability to weather conditions and the greater susceptibility of onboard navigation systems to interference. It is also more difficult to standardise test schedules and parameters across aircraft types and models, as some UAV models fly and function differently Rory Jackson reports on the facilities and services provided by testing centres to enable the certification of unmanned systems On closer inspection February/March 2018 | Unmanned Systems Technology