Project SIGMA – Make a Short Film


This is a system engineering problem concerning the flight of large unmanned aerial vehicle systems in non-segregated airspace.  Competitors are to create a short film clearly stating the technological challenges, identifying the technologies required and showing a high-level systems architecture for autonomous flight.

Further Information and Supporting Notes

Unmanned aviation is set to expand over the next decades and the challenges to safely integrate and operate unmanned aircraft in the wider airspace are still technologically demanding.  The operation of unmanned aircraft requires communications and a management system with remote ‘operators;’ hence, industry and the Civil Aviation Authority use the term Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to encompass all the elements necessary to operate unmanned aircraft.  There is a need to differentiate the air vehicle within the UAS and the current way this is done is to use the term Air Vehicle (AV).

Within an AV there are a number of technologies that are essential for safe flight within its flight envelope.  These technologies are often referred to as avionic systems.  For the purposes of this challenge avionics are defined as all technologies necessary for safe flight of a large AV within its flight envelope – these include the altimeter, navigation system and autopilot for example.  Technologies necessary for integration of UAS into airspace managed and regulated by civil authorities will ultimately become avionics technologies but for the purposes of this challenge they are considered additional technologies that have to be fitted to an AV to allow airspace integration to happen.

Large AV aircraft (over 150Kg) will operate in two ways:

  • Automated Operation
  • Autonomous Operation

Automated operations are where a UAV is equipped to maintain a vector and height within a safe flight envelope – an autopilot – but changes to vectors, any change of state within the six degrees of freedom and to systems within the air vehicle such as Selective Identification settings have to be made by a remotely located operator.

Autonomous operation for this challenge is defined as the ability of a UAV to fly a mission or tasking without intervention from the ground and to change settings of equipment in the aircraft against a pre-defined rule based logic.  There are gradations of autonomy and this challenge is bounded by autonomy constructed around rule based processes and not Artificial Intelligence.

The base requirements for operating unmanned AV are:

  • The AV should not introduce any new risks to safety of air users
  • UAS must demonstrate a equivalent level of safety to manned aircraft
  • AV operations must be transparent to other airspace users

You should keep in mind as a general point but one particularly relevant to Project SIGMA  that the whole concept of air navigation and safety of aircraft is predicated on one fundamental concept and that is there is a man in the cockpit who has ultimate responsibility for the safety of the aircraft.

The SIGMA Challenge

The challenge is to make a video to explain the technological and engineering challenges to achieve manned and unmanned flight in non–segregated airspace. The requirement is to describe the problems and solutions in a clear and understandable way that captures the audience interest in an innovative and exciting way.

You will need consider the technological challenges of the requirement and decide what technologies will be necessary on the AV to allow it to fly an autonomous mission in both VMC and IMC conditions across all categories of airspace.

You will need to consider the whole mission profile from take-off to landing and identify what technologies are necessary for the whole UAS.  You should develop a high-level system architecture for the technologies you deem necessary to include in the UAS.

Outputs for Project SIGMA

 You must produce a video of between no shorter than 20 minutes and no longer than 30 minutes that clearly elucidates the technological challenges and solutions.  Specifically, you should:

 Identify technologies both existing and new necessary for an AV to fly in all classes of airspace with other air users.

  • New technologies or new technology integration approaches should be described in functional terms rather than trying to identify specific technologies.
  • A system architecture showing how the additional technologies will interface with AV avionic systems
  • A UAS system architecture for safe and integrated AV flight in segregated airspace.

Project SIGMA Entries to the Challenge

The final short film must be submitted to the ProjO via one of the following mechanisms:

  • DVD posted to Durham/Northumberland Wing ATC HQ marked for the attention of Aerospace & IT Officer;
  • Uploaded to a video streaming service (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo etc) and shared via a private link which is emailed to DNW Aerospace & IT Officer;
  • Uploaded to a file sharing service (e.g. MS OneDrive, DropBox etc) and the link emailed to the DNW Aerospace & IT Officer;

The short film must not be any longer than 45 minutes in length.

The deadline for submission of the Project SIGMA short film is 19 May 2018.