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What goes on behind drone flight tests necessary for certification under Drone Rules 2021?

For a drone to get certified, it has to undergo a rigorous flight test, on-site testing, lab testing, and more.

The Drone Rules 2021, which superseded the earlier Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Rules 2021, abolished various restrictive norms. Recently, the Indian government introduced an amendment which further simplified the new rules and said that certain types of drones will not need a license to legally fly, but instead will need certification from one of the 12 DGCA-recognised drone schools using the Digital Sky platform. The flight test is a crucial part of the certification process.

Here is a look at the various requirements for a drone flight test, according to a recent notification issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Flight test has to be pre-scheduled and conducted according to plan

According to the document, a flight test for drones is to be conducted as per the flight test schedule and their respective activities. “All tests and verifications/validations are to be conducted as per their respective test plans/test cases. The given test stages may or may not be conducted in a single go. If endurance of the UAS or duration of flight is not sufficient to conduct all the planned tests as per schedule, additional flights should be planned,” the Ministry said.

Here’s a brief look at what a flight schedule consists of —

Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation

Pre-flight assessment: As part of this evaluation, a drone’s communication link will have to be checked, whether its active and working, the ministry said. Its GPS location will also have to be checked, it added. Other features that have to be checked include lights, vibration-free engine, and whether pilot is able to control the drone with ease, it said.

Loiter/Hovering: Loiter/hovering has to be checked to see whether the drone is able to maintain a stable flight without pilot input, MoCA said. All through the process, the pilot has to be at ease and the engine should be free of excessive vibration, it added

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Grid-based flight plan a must for cruise, endurance test

Among the stages that make up the flight test, the cruise stage takes the maximum amount of time. “70% of the endurance time claimed by the manufacturer or 120 minutes whichever is lower for the UAS,” the Ministry said while expanding on what should be the duration of a cruise test.

Drone test flight path | Source: Ministry of Civil Aviation

Apart from adhering to a grid-based flight plan, here are the other requirements for carrying out a cruise test, according to the Ministry —

  • Grids must be placed in such a way that the UAV does not take less than 30 seconds to travel
  • The drone should not cross the flight altitude of 120 metres
  • The UAV must have a point outside the geo-fence defined by the permission artefact
  • The UAV must have a continuous link to the ground control station
  • The unmanned aerial system’s geo location and key flight parameters must stream and display continuously on the ground control software screen

Since this is a part of the endurance test, the Ministry said that the flight must be conducted with full battery charge or fuel level.

Kinetic energy of the drone will be monitored

Considering the current and futuristic population of drones in our country that shall be coming under certification scheme, the all up weight and speed ranges shall be quite wide (sic). Therefore, it would be necessary to keep in view the possible damage on impact in such cases wherein the drone is out of control or suffers irrecoverable loss of structural integrity (sic). The impact damage of a moving object is directly proportional to its Kinetic Energy which is a function of its mass and velocity. (sic) – the Ministry of Civil Aviation

The Ministry has identified two scenarios of drone failures —

  • An emergency landing under control
  • Complete loss of control

The quantum of impact damage is directly proportional to the kinetic energy of the drone at the time of the impact, the Ministry said. Kinetic energy is a function of the mass of drone and its speed, it added.

Thus, the Ministry said that it has proposed a limit of 95 Kilo Joules for the kinetic energy of drones on impact. Calculations by the Ministry showed that a mass of 80 kg and a maximum speed of 125 kmph shall be the limiting conditions of the drone that would result in impact energies less than 95 Kilo Joules.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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