Jackson Municipal Airport Authority Teams with Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory to Advance Unmanned Aviation Systems

By LSherie Dean
Jackson Municipal Airport Authority

MSU’s TigerShark Block 3 XP is capable of flights up to 18,000 feet, has an approximate 21-foot wingspan, can carry nearly 100 pounds of payload and can fly for eight to twelve hours without refueling.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA) has partnered with Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) Raspet Flight Research Laboratory to accomplish yet another aviation milestone for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). This partnership has enabled one of the world’s most technologically-advanced large unmanned aircraft to take flight at Mississippi’s busiest airport – Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN).

Through the collaborative efforts of Raspet and the Authority, the duo successfully obtained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization for the first flight – which took place May 26 – in JAN’s controlled airspace, known as Class C. Class C airspace is a designation of up to 4,000 feet above ground level at airports with control towers, radar approach control and a certain level of activity.

“Today is monumental,” stated Paul A. Brown, JMAA CEO, on May 26. “It’s a unique opportunity to be a part of cutting-edge advancements for the enhancement of aviation. We are eager to learn the results from today’s unique flight, as research will aid in our potentially long-term campaign for the future use of UAS here at JAN. We’re grateful for our partnership with MSU and are looking forward to continued collaboration and the success of this project.”

While unmanned aircraft systems already aid emergency officials with evacuation decisions, flood assessments and the like, a complete integration into the national airspace system would enable them to safely and regularly operate in conjunction with manned aircraft during both emergency and non-emergency operations, while using many of the same air traffic management systems and procedures.

The JMAA and MSU-Raspet teams mark a successful first flight.

In the May 26 flight, an MSU TigerShark Block 3 XP aircraft lifted off and flew under the command of a remote pilot housed in a portable command center and positioned on the airport’s tarmac. During the flight, the remote pilot maintained two-way radio communication with air traffic controllers, complying with all instructions and using the same flight patterns and procedures as normal aircraft with on-board pilots. MSU’s TigerShark reached heights nearing 900 feet and is capable of flights up to 18,000 feet. It has an approximate 21-foot wingspan, weighs some 500 pounds, can carry nearly 100 pounds of payload and has the capability of flying for eight to twelve hours without refueling.

“Today’s flight represents a significant milestone,” said Tom Brooks, director of MSU’s Raspet Flight Lab. “It’s another step toward unmanned systems becoming fully and safely integrated alongside manned aircraft – a key initiative necessary for UAS to reach their full potential, including expansions of their existing emergency response and disaster-relief efforts. We’d like to thank the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority for their strong partnership and the professionalism they brought to bear to make today’s flight successful.”

This historic event helps solidify Mississippi’s position as a national leader in innovative aviation technology development, and it demonstrates the potential of strategic partnerships to advance aviation capabilities in the USA.