In our last article, we covered the certification process for drones. The certification process consisted of Stage 1 and Stage 2 examinations. Stage 2 examination is the on-site testing of the RPAS or drone. The Quality Council of India (QCI) has outlined how flight testing for drones should go about. Drone flight testing is a 7 stage process. Let’s take a look at what it entails:
Stage 1: Pre-flight Assessments
The first stage is the pre-flight assessment of the drone. The CB (Certification Body) officials from an NACB approved CB will visit the drone manufacturer’s facility based on the submitted application. The officials will then verify the assessment report created by the drone manufacturer and a testing lab. Pre-flight NPNT tests will also be conducted in this stage.
Stage 2 for rotary drones consists of a simple take-off and hover maneuver. In this, the drone must hover at an altitude of 10m AGL for 5 mins. Fixed-wing drones must proceed to Stage 3.
Stage 3: Loiter Test
The third stage is the loiter/hover test. In this stage, pilots will be asked to perform basic directional maneuvers for rotary and VTOL drones, while fixed-wing pilots will be required to fly their drones in a specified flight path.
For rotary drones, the pilot must hover the drone at 10m AGL. At this altitude, the drone will be observed if it has any excess vibration and if the drone can hover in a stable manner without any pilot input. Once the drone passes these criteria, the pilot will be asked to move the drone forward, backward, left, right, upwards, and downwards. This is done to check if the pilot can control the drone with ease.
The loiter test for fixed-wing drones is more extended compared to rotary drones. Fixed-wing drones must take off and loiter around the airstrip at 100m AGL (Above Ground Level) for 5 mins. The drone will be checked for excess vibration and stability during this auto-loiter maneuver.
Once the drone passes the auto-loiter test, the pilot will have to take manual control of the drone and perform a maneuver specified by the CB officials. The maneuver will consist of leveling the drone along the airstrip and flying it on either side of the airstrip. Finally, putting the drone to auto-loiter mode. Given below is the flight path that all drones must follow for all test flights.
Note: Fixed-wing VTOL (Vertical Take-Off & Landing) drones must first follow the rotary drones process and then continue with the standard fixed-wing flight path loiter.
Stage 4: Cruise Test
The Cruise Test examines several factors of the drone’s hardware and software. In this test, the drone must fly a maximum of 70% of the endurance time claimed by the manufacturer or 120 mins, whichever is lower. The drone is supposed to be operated based on the following guidelines:
- A Waypoint or grid-based flight plan must be created such that there is a straight-line path from one turning point to the other turning point. The distance between these points must be such that the time taken by the RPAS to travel between them must not be less than 30 seconds.
- The RPAS must always remain in the Visual Line of Sight of the operator.
- The RPAS must not cross the flight altitude of 120 m AGL at any point of time.
- The RPAS must have a way point outside the Geo-fence defined via the Permission Artefact
- The RPAS C2 link must be continuously connected to the C2 link at the ground control station.
- The RPAS geo-location and key flight parameters must stream and display continuously on the Ground Control Software screen running on the Ground control station.
Stage 5 & 6: Return to Home & Land
In the fifth stage, the drone must return to the home location and loiter or hover at that location for a pre-programmed time period. Finally, in the sixth stage, the drone must land smoothly without damage to any part.
Stage 7: Endurance Test
The endurance test is the final flight test for the drone. In this test, the drone’s flight time, battery drain rate, etc. are observed. The drone is supposed to be flown for a maximum of 120 mins or 20% of claimed endurance with a fully charged battery. Then, the battery voltage is observed before and after the flight. On successful completion, a completion report will be generated with all the technical and performance details of the RPAS/drone. For more details about flight testing read QCI’s flight testing guidelines here.
This report will then be sent for analysis and review to the Certification Body. Read about the complete certification process here.