Fortem Technologies, a Utah-based company founded in 2016 which counts Boeing’s HorizonX among its investors, put on an anti-drone show for legislators on February 11 at the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City.
The company sent up a series of “rogue” drones, each of which was tracked by their SkyDome system using their TrueView radar sensors, which then dispatched a predator drone to autonomously track, capture and retrieve the intruder in a net with Fortem’s DroneHunter system. [Read the CDR interview with Gregg Pugmire of Fortem.]
The DroneHunter goes up with two loaded net guns, each of which fire a high-speed gas-propelled weighted net to capture the offending drone. The trapped drone is then transported away from people, traffic or buildings. In today’s demonstration, the DroneHunter system was mounted on a DJI Matrice M600 hexacopter c-drone; the company says it will be offering an American-made platform in the near future, better optimized for the DroneHunter hardware which includes a TrueView micro-radar unit.
When discussing so-called counter-UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) or anti-drone systems, a distinction is made between tracking — identifying a drone and its movements; and interdiction — forcing the drone to land or neutralizing it. It is illegal in the United States and many other countries to interfere with aircraft, including drones, without special authorization, although in the US, military bases have had the right to take out drones since 2017 and the recent FAA reauthorization allows law enforcement to stop drone flights.
There are several ways to track wayward drones: micro-radar such as Fortem’s TrueView, managed by its SkyDome software; radio frequency (RF) sensors, used by rival firm Dedrone; electro-optical (EO) for visual identification; thermal; acoustic, picking up the distinctive beehive humming of drone rotors. Software tracking solutions can generally integrate more than one type of sensor. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently studying how to require remote identification for every drone in the sky; the nascent Urban Air Mobility (UAM) or air taxi industry will need to rely on trouble-free Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM or U-space) to share the sky at low altitudes in urban areas with c-drones. China’s Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI), the world’s market leader for c-drones, has remote identification available and preprograms its drones with GPS “geofencing” to prevent overflight of sensitive sites, although apparently some sites aren’t properly fenced by the company, such as this nuclear processing plant in Normandy, France.
There are a number of ways to attempt to interdict drones — a list is here — but there is a problem with destroying a rogue drone (which is already difficult enough): it’s not ideal to have drone rotors, motors, batteries, and airframes raining down on people, traffic, or buildings. Radio jamming or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) techniques could interfere with nearby transmissions. Fortem says capturing a drone with a net is the safest way to interdict a drone. The company claims a high “kill” rate of 85%, although it confirmed most of the 3000 kills over 7500 missions referenced in its press release were during testing or simulations. Fortem’s clients in the US, Europe and the Middle East are mostly government departments wanting to secure sensitive sites, and are reluctant to publicize their drone tracking and interdiction evaluations or contracts.
In late December, one or more drones deliberately flown over the runway at London Gatwick Airport resulted in the airport’s closure for over 33 hours, stranding over 130,000 passengers. The police arrested, then cleared a local couple; the investigation is ongoing. Last month, a drone was sighted at 3600ft altitude by pilots of two aircraft on approach to Newark Liberty Airport near New York City [audio from LiveATC.net]; the drone or its pilot were not found. Last month, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced it is deploying DJI’s Aeroscope drone tracking system, but not an interdiction system.
The Utah demonstration was part of Aerospace Day On The Hill, an annual event in its 4th year sponsored by the Utah state governor’s Office Of Economic Development (GOED).