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As drones become more prevalent in our day-to-day lives, the need for reliable flight termination systems is becoming increasingly important. Flight termination systems are a set of protocols and hardware components that allow a drone’s flight to be safely terminated in the event of an emergency or other unforeseen circumstance. These systems will be mandatory for C5 & C6 drones, and recommended for all other classes.

In this post, we will discuss the basics of flight termination systems, their importance, and how they are used in the drone industry.

What is Flight Termination System (FTS)

Flight Termination Systems (FTS) are designed to provide an extra layer of safety to drone operations being the last resort option to terminate a flight considered out of control. As its name implies, its purpose is to interrupt the flight of the aircraft, causing its fall and preventing its horizontal displacement within the safety margin or “buffer”.

The Importance of Flight Termination Systems

Flight termination systems are an essential part of any drone operation. Without them, there is a much greater risk of an out-of-control drone causing harm to people or property.

The FTS is used to prevent the drone from leaving the safety margin defined on the ground and accessing the area termed according to the SORA methodology as “adjacent area”. Therefore, the use of the FTS is considered as emergency, since prior to its activation the drone will have crossed the contingency zone and should have applied the corresponding contingency mitigations, unless the aircraft shows a control failure on the own flight geography and the pilot considers its activation.

The FTS is applicable to:

  • Drones operated in specific category with a SAIL II risk classification according to SORA methodology

  • Aircraft dimensions: aircraft dimensions equal or less than 3 meters, taking into account the limitations of the FTS to be able to act on an aircraft of this size. Larger aircraft can be allowed as long as its kinetic energy is less than 34 kJ or 35 m/s

  • Aircraft design: any design is valid

Design and Characteristics of the FTS

The FTS must be totally isolated from the aircraft control system and any other element that in case of failure could cause a loss of control, except that the failure itself generates an aircraft fall.

That is, under no context should a malfunction of an aircraft device affect the FTS, guaranteeing its total independence and thus ensuring its activation whenever necessary. However, the FTS could use the aircraft battery as a power source, since, in case of battery failure, the aircraft would fall within the operational volume.

How Flight Termination Systems Are Used in the Drone Industry

As for the activation system of the FTS, the same concept of segregation must be fulfilled, finding ourselves two possible options:

  1. Manual activation: the communications system used for its activation must be independent of the aircraft communications system.

  2. Automatic activation: the sensors that will generate the activation of the FTS must be independent of those of the aircraft. For example, if it is activated by geographical position or by attitude of the aircraft, the FTS must be equipped with an independent GNSS system (eg GPS) or an IMU (inertial measurement unit).

In conclusion, flight termination systems are an essential component of any drone operation. They provide an extra layer of security and are becoming increasingly important in the drone industry. By understanding the basics of flight termination systems and how they are used, you can ensure that your drone operation is as safe and efficient as possible.