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14 February, 2020 - 21:11 By Tony Quested

Holographic radar tech accelerates unsegregated airspace vision

A national facility to test how unmanned air systems (UAS) will be able to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft is trialling unique Holographic Radar technology with groundbreaking results.

Cranfield University and Cambridge radar business Aveillant are at the heart of the initiative.

The National Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) is developing a BVLOS flight corridor stretching 10 miles, from Cranfield University’s global research airport towards Blue Bear Systems Research Twinwoods test site near its headquarters in Oakley. 

The corridor will provide a safe, managed environment for unmanned aircraft experimentation, working towards a range of uses, including for the emergency services and medical industries.

The collaboration between Cranfield University, Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone is already paving the way for unsegregated flight operations. 

Now, world-renowned radar specialist Aveillant, a wholly owned Thales company, has brought its unique holographic radar for testing in the flight corridor.

Aveillant’s radars are already used to detect drones at several international airports to prevent unmanned systems from entering the flight path. This same radar technology is now being applied by NBEC, with Aveillant’s Gamekeeper Radar successfully tested over the last month at Blue Bear’s facility.

Dr Dominic Walker, chief executive officer at Aveillant explains: “The radar successfully detected and tracked a number of different drones, with excellent correlation between the detected and real tracks. This test proves and de-risks the technology which will underpin the NBEC airspace monitoring.”

Aveillant’s holographic radar system differs fundamentally from traditional mechanically scanned radars and electronically scanned systems, requiring only a very narrow bandwidth. 

With excellent detection performance against multiple targets, holographic radar digitises the entire volume of airspace it sees – a fundamental advance on any form of scanning radar.

Combining leading industry partners with the best of academia to create the UK’s first national testing facility, NBEC is working closely with the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC), also under construction at Cranfield. 

With NBEC chosen as one of six companies selected to join the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) ‘Innovation Sandbox’, the testing facility provides UK aerospace with a unique opportunity using Cranfield’s live operational airport, to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of drone application development and future adoption.

NBEC’s test centre will be opening for use by the aerospace industry this summer. Director of Aerospace at Cranfield, Professor Iain Gray, said: “NBEC is a national asset that will help unlock the potential of a modernised UK airspace. The key to future drone operations is not segregation but full integration, ensuring fair and equitable use of airspace.”

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