Predator drones to be equipped with ADS-B system to fly cooperatively and safely in the U.S. airspace

Aircraft enthusiasts’ dream of tracking drones on FlightRadar24 or PlaneFinder as the fly in the U.S. airspace, may soon become a reality.

The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) like the Predator/Reaper/Gray Eagle series drones, on Aug. 10, 2012, off the Florida coast has successfully tested an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)-based surveillance system.

The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that such unmanned aircraft can fly cooperatively and safely in the National Airspace System (NAS), allowing Air Traffic Control (ATC) to know their location precisely, as mandated by the FAA that requires all aircraft flying above 10,000 feet or around major U.S. airports to be ADS-B equipped by 2020.

A Guardian drone (the maritime surveillance version of the Predator B) was equipped with a Reduced Size Transponder, designated AN/DPX-7, an IFF that interoperates with both military and civilian ATC surveillance systems and is ADS-B-capable.

During the tests, ADS-B IN-capable transponder detected other ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the vicinity and displayed the aircraft on a display within the Ground Control Station (GCS). Concurrently, Guardian’s ADS-B OUT transponder notified other aircraft and ATC of its location and velocity.

The U.S. airspace is quickly being filled with simultaneously flying drones. To such an extent, unmanned aircraft could soon become a nightmare for the ATC controllers.

The ADS-B will improve Predator B’s crew situational awareness making the drone capable to operate more freely and safely in domestic and international airspace in accordance with civilian air traffic and airspace rules and regulations.

Let’s hope so.

Image credit: General Atomics

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.