NCHRP Implementation Support Program. UAS Operations Practical Skills Pilot Program for State DOTs

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) have been used to support state department of transportation (DOT) activities, including surveying, inspection, construction, and emergency management. Most state DOTs operate under CFR 14 Part 107 rules, which require pilots to pass a knowledge exam. However, the exam is knowledge-based and does not include a practical flight skills component. Not verifying flight proficiency represents a significant barrier and source of liability for states wishing to use drones. Currently, there is no nationally accepted flight proficiency certification or practical test standard (PTS) for small UAS pilots to demonstrate practical knowledge, competent controller operation/manipulation skills, and safe, efficient, and effective operation of UAS. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a “Basic Maneuvering” test, with protocols for organizations to use. However, NIST does not provide guidance on minimum skill levels or certify organizations to administer their exams. The Basic Maneuvering test has several limitations when used as a standardized flight proficiency exam. Building the test is costly and cumbersome to store. Administering the exam requires access to a large level field and a significant labor investment of the proctor to call out instructions and then manually grade the images. Additionally, varying environmental conditions (wind, lighting, etc.) can make score standardization, test-over-test, difficult. Through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) incentive program, South Carolina DOT and Clemson University developed a computer simulation that provides different scenarios of UAS operations, including the NIST Basic Maneuvering test where pilots can navigate using a generic drone controller or game pad. Such a computer simulation eliminates the barriers previously identified as it doesn’t need to be stored, is self-proctoring/scoring, and the environmental conditions are consistent. The only hardware needed is a computer with minimal processing power, access to the internet, and a simulator controller.  These two examples are valuable tools for state DOT UAS operations, but as a standalone, these resources do not suffice to satisfy flight proficiency for state DOT UAS operations. Moreover, the scan team report for NCHRP Project 20-68A, Scan 17-01, “Successful Approaches for the Use of Unmanned Aerial System by Surface Transportation Agencies” noted the need to “establish flight-specific training requirements for all UAS operators…” and to “conduct regular training and refresher training programs to ensure compliance with regulations and policy.” A research team has been selected to develop and pilot method(s) for state DOT UAS pilots to demonstrate practical skills of UAS operations that complement the CFR 14 Part 107 knowledge exam. The method(s) can be undertaken virtually, in a field operation setting, or in a combination of both.    


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $200000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-44(47)

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Mohan, Sid

  • Performing Organizations:

    Clemson University

    216 Lowry Hall
    Clemson, SC, SC  United States  29634
  • Principal Investigators:

    Burgett, Joseph

  • Start Date: 20240430
  • Expected Completion Date: 20251029
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01851056
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-44(47)
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Jul 5 2022 5:03PM