• Professor Jon How, director of the Aerospace Controls Lab (pictured here), says the new Cape Cod unmanned vehicle test site will offer unique flying opportunities for MIT researchers.

    Professor Jon How, director of the Aerospace Controls Lab (pictured here), says the new Cape Cod unmanned vehicle test site will offer unique flying opportunities for MIT researchers.

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Cape Cod drone test site will be boon to MIT researchers

Professor Jon How, director of the Aerospace Controls Lab (pictured here), says the new Cape Cod unmanned vehicle test site will offer unique flying opportunities for MIT researchers.

Government-sanctioned airspace provides “realistic environment” for testing unmanned aircraft systems.


A newly FAA-designated unmanned aircraft test site in Massachusetts will offer MIT classes and research groups government-sanctioned airspace only an hour and a half from campus. The facility, located at Joint Base Cape Cod, will be a boon for Institute researchers developing unmanned aerial vehicles and their associated systems, says the test site’s academic liaison, MIT Professor Jonathan How of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

FAA restrictions have made it difficult for researchers to test unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in realistic environments, says How, who directs AeroAstro’s Aerospace Controls Laboratory. How is a member of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Alliance (NUAIR), a consortium of more than 40 public and private organizations from Massachusetts and New York that proposed the test site to the FAA.

“The combination of the Cape Cod site and a lead site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y., will present MIT, and other northeastern schools and industry, with cross-country and climactically diverse opportunities to explore UAS operations and integrate them into general U.S. airspace,” How says. He says the ability to investigate solutions for inserting unmanned aircraft in densely trafficked northeast U.S. airspace will be of particular value to researchers.

To this point, most MIT UAS test flying has been confined to indoor facilities. “AeroAstro classes like Flight and Space Systems Engineering (16.82 and 16.83), labs like the Humans and Automation Lab and the Aerospace Controls Lab, our Design-Build-Fly Competition team, and the MIT-Lincoln Lab Beaverworks program are perfect candidates for the test site,” How says.

Joint Base Cape Cod occupies 22,000 acres on upper Cape Cod, in Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich. Formerly known as the Massachusetts Military Reservation, it includes the Otis Air National Guard Base. It is also home to Army National Guard, Air Force, and Coast Guard command centers.

MassDevelopment, a Massachusetts agency that works with businesses, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth, will manage the facility.

NUAIR and MassDevelopment expect to have the Cape Cod site operational before the end of 2014; progress may be followed at http://nuair.org. Those interested in details on using the site may contact How at jhow@mit.edu.


Topics: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), Aeronautical and astronautical engineering

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