Since the time we started thinking about doing a glider launch, we have been concerned about regulatory restrictions related to autonomous aircraft. We’ve had an ongoing conversation with our local FAA field office (the same one we worked with last year when we did the AHAB launches), and they have repeatedly assured us, in writing, that we were OK to fly under FAR 101, the balloon flight regulations.
However, earlier this week we discovered that we weren’t talking to quite the right people in the FAA. With the explosion in interest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, think Predator Drone), the FAA has instituted a series of regulations restricting the operation of unpiloted aircraft in American airspace. The primary gating factor is that UAVs must have a Certificate of Airworthiness (COA). Getting one involves a process geared towards defense contractors and large corporations, and can take as long as a year to work through.
So, this means we can’t have a high altitude glider launch this weekend.
What we will do, however, is launch REHAB, our science payload, and MOAR, our attempt at the amateur high altitude record. We will also use a tethered balloon to raise our glider up to 400 feet, the limit for unrestricted “model aircraft”, and have it fly around autonomously. This is actually good, as it gives us plenty of time for shakedown, and sets us up for a good start to the COA process.
Tonight is one last night of frenetic building and hacking at the lab. Tomorrow we pack up and relocate 200 miles east. Saturday morning we’ll be launching MOAR, stay tuned for information on how to get realtime updates on it’s progress!