An Interview with General Poss on UAS | Unmanned Systems Institute

An Interview with General Poss on UAS

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Maj. Gen. James O. Poss
Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C
General Poss received his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Southern Mississippi. He served in Desert Storm with the U.S. VII Corps RC-12 Guardrail Battalion in Saudi Arabia, and was Director of Intelligence for Central Command Air Forces deployed to Southwest Asia at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. The general commanded the 488th Intelligence Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, flying RC-135s in combat during the Kosovo Air War. He has also commanded the 609th Air Intelligence Group at Shaw AFB, S.C., and 70th Intelligence Wing at Fort George G. Meade, Md. Read more.

Why was ASSURE founded and how do the research institutions that make up ASSURE contribute to the long term mission of the organization? 
ASSURE is an FAA Center of Excellence (COE).  FAA COE’s are part of a Congressionally-mandated program designed to provide the FAA with academic support for aviation related research.  ASSURE exists to provide the FAA the research they need to write Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) rules and polices.  ASSURE has been operational since last September, but has been a team for three years.  We have 23 universities in ASSURE and over 100 corporate members.  We picked universities with the most practical experience with applied UAS research.  As result, we sit on 16 different aviation rule making committees, are core to three FAA UAS test sites and only the DoD flies more UAS hours than ASSURE!

How has your 30 year Air Force career informed your views on the value of UAS from the standpoint of intelligence gathering and use in combat missions?
It’s amazing how much my Air Force experience with the early adoption of unmanned systems is matching my experience with commercial UAS.  The ‘early adopters’ of unmanned systems weren’t the pilots – it was the intelligence professionals who first saw their potential.  It’s the same with commercial UAS.  Its users like Amazon Prime Air, videographers, the film industry, the computer industry that see more potential in UAS than the traditional aerospace companies.

As the use of UAS continues to expand in military, government, and commercial functions, what are the most difficult challenges that the industry is facing in regards to implementing safety training guidelines and certification programs for UAS pilots
and crews?
This is the biggest challenge commercial aviation has faced since creation of the
national airspace system (NAS).  Before UAS, they smallest aircraft routinely flying
the NAS was about the size of a Cessna 172.  Cessna are big, expensive and take
skill to fly compared to UAS.  Now, anyone with can buy a UAS online and  can operate
it in the NAS, with no experience required to fly it.

What kind of training and certification do you need to fly a UAS?  UAS range from hummingbird-sized to the size of airliners and are made from everything from foam to composites.  How do you set airworthiness standards for something this diverse?  UAS are completely reliant on electronics and computers to fly.  How do you secure them?
The rise of the commercial UAS industry also means an increased possibility of accidental collisions with other aircraft as well as both natural and man-made obstacles.

What types of research is your team at ASSURE conducting with sensors that can help mitigate the risk of UAS collisions?
Most of the research ASSURE conducts is targeted at making UAS collisions less likely.
New Mexico State and the University of North Dakota are teaming to find ways to
safely fly UAS beyond visual line of sight using a variety sensors and procedures.
North Carolina State University and the Ohio State University are finding out if
manned “detect and avoid systems” – like ADS-B or TCAS – will work for UAS.  Kansas
State is researching airworthiness standards, Drexel is working human factors and
Wichita State, Mississippi State, Montana State, Ohio State and Alabama Huntsville
are working air to air and air to ground collision studies.

As a follow up to the previous question, the FAA has also become particularly concerned with the growing number of sUAS in the national airspace that are operating below 400 feet. We’ve discussed the increased possibility for collisions due to the rise of sUAS but what are the other key areas where sUAS are having a significant impact on our national airspace?
The FAA is very concerned about both intentional and accidental UAS intrusion into
controlled airspace, such as around airports. ASSURE research indicates that nearly
any sized UAS could destroy a jet engine if its ingested into the turbine.  Hence,
ASSURE is working with DHS, DoD and, of course, the FAA develop ways to detect and counter unauthorized UAS in controlled airspace.

From your view as the Executive Director of an FAA Center for Excellence in UAS
Research, are there any particular developments or challenges in the industry (military, government, commercial, etc.) that you find to be particularly exciting or concerning?
The exciting part is how fast UAS rulemaking is now working and the help ASSURE
can provide the FAA in making this process faster.  The Administrator has really
affected a “sea change” lately in the FAA when it comes to UAS.  ASSURE had only
been in operation a few months before the recent Micro UAS aviation rulemaking committee, but it was great to see the impact our research had on the committee’s final report. I think our research convinced the committee that its unsafe to allow UAS to fly
near airports, but safer than we think to fly UAS over people given some relatively
simple precautions.  My concern is that small UAS have been getting all the attention
to date.  We need to apply the same process to large UAS because industry is convinced
that large UAS will be game changers in the market.
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