Under plans stated by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd and Cranfield University, drones and unmanned aircraft will have access to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft.
The partners aim to develop the National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC). The corridor will be from Bedfordshire from Blue Bear’s headquarters in Oakley to Cranfield University’s airport. Uniting their respective competencies, the team will be able to integrate the best of academia with the best of industry creating a UK first, ‘national’ asset.
NBEC’s goal is to provide a safe, managed environment for drone and unmanned aircraft experimentation which will work towards their incorporation into controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Both Blue Bear and Cranfield believe the crucial factor to future drone operations is not segregation, but unification guaranteeing fair and unbiased use of airspace for all.
The formation of the NBEC will allow a range of technologies to be combined and tested together and will offer a national capability allowing experimentation in a variety of areas.
The UK drone industry is going through an exciting evolution and is poised for growth. Operation under BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight), alongside co-operative and non-cooperative air traffic in a managed environment, provides a unique opportunity to maintain the UK at the forefront of drone application development and future adoption.
Ian Williams-Wynn, Managing Director of Blue Bear
The potential of drones and unmanned vehicles to boost UK productivity is well documented and the technology is well developed. However, there are understandable regulatory concerns that need to be overcome about how they operate alongside manned aircraft.
In partnership with Blue Bear Systems Research, Cranfield is aiming to create an environment which will enable the UK to pioneer the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft.
Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University
The NBEC will be run with both Blue Bear and Cranfield operating their respective systems but also providing a capability that enables other companies to come and test their Unified Traffic Management (UTM) concepts in a safely managed environment. Originally, part of the NBEC will be 5G enabled as part of the existing Department of Culture, Media and Sport 5G program, with future plans to enable the whole corridor.
It is anticipated that others working in the unmanned vehicles domain will make the most of NBEC allowing testing with unmanned freight and logistics for road and air, connected autonomous vehicles (CAV), and the infrastructure that goes with it.
The central NBEC location is rural, allowing safe testing areas away from urban areas and major roads. It is bordered by core CAV testing locations and infrastructure such as Milton Keynes and Millbrook, making it the ideal location to become the future center of unmanned systems experimentation in the UK.