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NMSU Physical Science Lab tests small unmanned aircraft in dusk, night conditions

The New Mexico State University Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Test Center and the NMSU Department of Psychology just completed a series of three, week-long, experimental tests to evaluate the safety of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) operations in the day, at dusk and at night.


A small unmanned aircraft system
A Puma small unmanned aircraft system is launched by hand. New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory recently completed a series of three, week-long, experimental tests to evaluate the safety of small unmanned aircraft systems operations in the day, at dusk and at night. (Submitted photo)

The NASA-funded experiments used AeroVironment Raven B and Puma sUAS for the study and used NMSU’s chase plane to simulate an encroaching aircraft.

“Preliminary analyses of the first two weeks of testing indicated no degradation of safety when operating sUAS at night or dusk as compared to daytime operations,” said Igor Dolgov, assistant professor in NMSU’s Department of Psychology and test director.

The results are consistent with NMSU Physical Science Laboratory findings from 2012 that evaluated night operations of Raven A and WASP III sUAS.

In the current round of testing, artificial lighting was used to simulate light pollution. The artificial lighting did not appear to impact performance of visual observers at typical streetlight luminance levels; however, more analyses are needed.

The final week of testing examined a first-of-its-kind experimental situation where the sUAS flew at higher altitudes than the manned aircraft. The final report on these see and avoid experiments is slated for publication later this year.