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Flight Planning Manual

The final manual in our documentation set is the Flight Planning Manual. During initial development and test flying of a new airframe and GCS, this sets out the full sequence of acceptance tests we intend to carry out along with the test location and team who will be doing the flying. Then as each test in the sequence is successfully completed, we migrate the results to the System Description so that, on completion of all acceptance tests, all the results are completely moved into the System Description. For subsequent operational flying, a completely new document is then produced for each mission, which sets out purpose, activities, location, flight crew, and so on. This is generally produced on a case-by-case basis for submission to the regulators and can be quite brief for simple flight missions.

In setting out flight manuals, we often duplicate a short description of the system at the beginning of the manual for convenience. Next we include details of the flight location, specifying full address, GPS coordinates, and local map references (in the UK we use the Ordnance Survey grid reference system). We also include an aerial view of the location showing the normal boundaries for flight (for VLOS flying in the UK, this is currently a 500 m radius circle around the pilot’s station) and any specific out-of-bounds areas (the area where spectators may be standing, nearby buildings or other runways, etc.). We also set out site-specific emergency procedures, including all relevant contact telephone numbers for the local emergency services and repeat a summary of the no-go conditions for which flying is prohibited (such as weather or failure to complete flight checks). Next, a short set of general procedures are laid down, referencing the more extensive operations manual:

  • 1. Aims and general procedures. Why the flight is being conducted, under what authority, maximum flight times, and so on;
  • 2. FCS conditions of operation. Which modes of control will be used (fully manual flights, autopilot-assisted flights, fully automated flights, etc.);
  • 3. Communication between UAVpilot and GCS operator. A summary of the protocols being used between pilot and ground station operator;
  • 4. Conflicting air traffic. Actions to be taken if any crew member sees a potential air traffic conflict;
  • 5. Flight data. The data to be recorded on each flight together with the means for capturing it;
  • 6. Flight control system software management. The processes to be used in setting either the manual transmitter or GCS control logics (since one may have multiple aircraft, it is imperative for the team to ensure that the correct logics are being used for each aircraft).

Then the actual flight crew are detailed, and since this document may be used to seek regulatory approval, a short CV of each crew member is specified. Next, the individual test or mission details are provided. For acceptance purposes we typically include the tests set out in Chapter 20. We use the on-board autopilot to measure a great many aircraft characteristics, but if this is not possible, some other means of measuring speeds, accelerations, angles, climb rates, and so on, will be needed. For each flight, standard records are kept of the participants, location, date, time of start, duration, forecast and measured wind speeds and directions, fuel at start and finish, and payload on board, together with any notes or comments arising during the flight. All flights should begin with standard pre-flight and center of gravity (CoG) checks. All flight test records should be countersigned by the relevant design authority before being accepted for use in the system description.

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