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I know that there are documents such as DO-178B, DO-178C and DO-254 that provide guidance and requirements for the development of avionics in general.

In my opinion it's hard to believe that avionics developed for unmanned aerial systems (left) are subject to the same technical requirements than those on board manned aircraft (right).

UAS and cockpit

Therefore I ask:

  • Are there any specific regulations for avionics on board unmanned aerial systems?
  • If so, how do they differ from those specified in documents such as DO-178B, DO-178C and DO-254?
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt DO-178 or DO-254 has been applied to any consumer grade UAS (not sure about military). DO-178 and DO-254 are meant for safety critical software / electronic hardware. As UAS so far haven't been deemed to require safety critical software, I expect that the software developed for UAS are done to each company's processes/standards $\endgroup$ – selectstriker2 Sep 27 '17 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ If there aren't yet, there will be once a falling, out of control camera drone kills or injures a person or property... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Sep 28 '17 at 16:33
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The flight control software on military grade UAV/UAS has DO-178/DO-254 requirements, per briefings I attended, and also that software provided for embedding in those had to meet those and other requirements.

I am not an expert on the UAS platform we used (Global Hawk RQ-4) but it is safe to say that it is a complex bird with multiple capabilities. A typical mission flight crew consisted of a launch and recovery pilot, and mission pilots and sensor operators, in sufficient numbers to handle extended missions.

I am unaware of any consumer grade UAS utilizing those standards, and doubt there are many, if any at all, due to the increased development cost. I am unaware of any type certificated sUAS.

To give you an example, I had a certain nav sensor related function integrated for VFR use on a sensor platform (Twin Otter). The development cost was about 4.5 million. If we were to apply the standards so that we could operate that platform in an IFR environment, the estimated cost was about 9.5 to 11 million. Sure there were just a few additional capabilities, but a big part of it was systems engineering and test.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for your answer. I wonder under which circumstances such requirements need to be met and when not, specially for civil applications. Do you happen to know? $\endgroup$ – codeaviator Oct 1 '17 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is beyond what can readily be covered here. However, when dealing with systems which are large (type certificated), that act autonomously, that go beyond visual line of sight, that integrate with airspace at altitudes where manned aircraft normally operate, are among the criteria which influence the need for reliable software. If you want to dig further, I would look at the type certification. I would expect that all the military employed and internationally dispatched UAS require avionics grade software development. $\endgroup$ – mongo Oct 1 '17 at 13:57

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