DOD Officials Approve East Coast UAS and AAM Test Corridor

Government agencies are developing a prototype testing and evaluation corridor for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM) technologies.

The NARTP facility opened in 2017 in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. [Courtesy: Stockton University]

Since the completion of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance’s (NUAIR) 50-mile drone testing corridor in 2019, the state of New York has conducted drone integration evaluations for the FAA, flown routine beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) tests, and even experimented with 5G technology.

New York’s drone corridor has been a major boon for the state’s wider aviation industry and the development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM) technologies—so much so that its Tri-State area neighbor is planning to build its own.

On Thursday, the National Aerospace Research and Technology Park (NARTP), a collection of research and development facilities located just outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, announced an agreement to develop a UAS and AAM testing corridor backed by two Department of Defense entities. Once complete, the corridor could foster emerging aviation technologies such as drones and air taxis.

The project is being supported by the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), a unit of the DOD that provides the agency with air, land, and sea transportation, and the Air Mobility Command (AMC), the air component of USTRANSCOM and a major command of the U.S. Air Force.

The Atlantic County Economic Alliance (ACEA) will provide a portion of the corridor’s funding through a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

The cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between NARTP, USTRANSCOM, and AMC calls for the entities to build a prototype UAS and AAM corridor connecting New Jersey’s Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, a distance of about 78 miles.

“This agreement is a significant accomplishment and will demonstrate the NARTP’s ability to facilitate aviation research,” said NARTP board chairman Mark Loeben, a retired Air Force major general. “USTRANSCOM and AMC are major players in aviation. Their interest in working with the NARTP helps to advance both the development of the NARTP and the emerging aviation industry in New Jersey’s Atlantic County.”

The NARTP and other parties have yet to produce a timeline for the New Jersey-Delaware corridor. But they expect the airspace to be “dual use,” facilitating launching and landing of civilian aircraft from non-DOD sites alongside UAS and AAM testing and experimentation.

Once established, the corridor will be used to demonstrate, develop, and evaluate military, commercial, academic, and federally backed UAS and AAM technology. NARTP said, for example, that it’s looking to enable strategic airlift capabilities for the Air Force.

In the meantime, the center has plenty more to do.

“The CRADA is an outcome of the NARTP’s work with AMC and FAA on the Airfield Autonomy Initiative (AAI),” said NARTP president Howard Kyle, “that involves the testing and demonstration of automated lawn mowing, foreign object debris sweeping, and perimeter patrol in both military and civilian airfield environments.”

The NARTP in February earned a Congressional grant for the AAI program, which aims to create the world’s first airfield-specific autonomous command and control systems. The FAA, Air Force, ACEA, and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences are all involved.

One month earlier, the center received $2 million from a federal spending bill to contract with autonomous vehicle manufacturers, which it hopes will enable driverless airport maintenance such as clearing runways and mowing grass. NARTP is adjoined to Atlantic City International Airport (KACY). 

It’s also adjacent to the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center. There, NARTP tenants are researching safety, testing, certification, and regulatory standards for UAS and AAM. And the center is working with Deloitte to launch an early AAM service in New Jersey.

Jack is a staff writer covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel—and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.

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