I am looking into a business idea that requires glider sized semi-automatic drones but I am very naive when it comes to the regulations and rigour of the aviation and airline industry, so I am hoping I can find some help here. As I understand it, introduction of a new aircraft into the market requires testing all components of the aircraft extensively and after a few test runs, if it is considered safe, it's given a type certificate. This process can take anywhere from 5 to 9 years. However, I am wondering if it is possible to make it cheaper or faster if only modifications are made to an already type certified aircraft.

Assume I got my hands on a glider and manage to add a small gasoline\jet-A1 motor to it (or maybe directly purchase one with a motor), and modify it so that it can be operated remotely with minimal guidance. How likely is it that such an experimental aircraft is going to be approved?

When I say semi-automatic or with minimal guidance, I mean that the aircraft can fly by itself given a flight path (similar to an auto-pilot) and human assistance is needed only when landing - since there needs to be constant communication between the control tower and the pilot- or if the air traffic control requires the pilot to alter the flight path for some reason. The remote pilot would ideally be overseeing around 5-10 of these drones at the same time. Is such a modification to a glider possible given the current laws and regulations?

These gliders would be flying to small airport rather than the ones like newark-liberty so they would not cause to much trouble to commerial air traffic. Finally, what is the procedure, cost, and time needed to use such a modified aircraft for commercial applications?

Edit: This question has been closed for being too broad,although I believe it is not. In essence, I am asking for what the procedure is to bring an experimental aircraft to market, and how likely it is. These two questions can be answered in a single answer. If the community still finds this too broad, please suggest changes so I can narrow it down.

  • $\begingroup$ In the olden days, "Too broad" meant that an entire chapter, or entire book, would be needed to answer the question appropriately and thus wasnt a good fit for a Q/A site. Entire volumes of books could be written on the subject of bringing an experimental semi-UAV to fruition. This question is massively too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Jun 17 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ In addition, How likely is it that such an experimental aircraft is going to be approved? would be opinion based at best. Is such a modification to a glider possible given the current laws and regulations? raises more questions than could be answered and Finally, what is the procedure, cost, and time needed to use such a modified aircraft for commercial applications? is like asking how long is a piece of string. So you're asking multiple questions, none of which can be answered in any reasonable sense. Now do you understand what "Need's more focus" is alluding to? $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Jun 17 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ VtLC: Sorry, but you've not reduced the number of separate questions at all. You ask three questions. Yes, while they are all tangentially related to the creation of an experimental airframe, they are each way too broad. Please read Jamiec's comments and heed them. How on earth would we be able to produce a cost basis to do what you desire? And that is cherry picking a single portion of a single question. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 17 at 12:11

The certification process for the airworthiness of a type design in Europe is rather straightforward, regardless if it is a new design or a modification of an existing one:

  • You establish a design bureau and apply for recognition as an Approved Design Organisation (DO) according to EASA Part 21 Subpart J. This requires to have specialists on hand for all aspects of airplane design, including fringe disciplines like lightning protection.
  • Once your design has progressed far enough, you apply for a type certificate with your local authorities. Essential for a successful certification project is the exact definition of the type design at an early phase of the project. The type design should include drawings and specifications but also information on materials and processes, including methods of manufacture and assembly of the product
  • You compile a Means of Compliance (MoC) list which covers how each individual article of the regulations will be fulfilled. The means could be either the use of a proven design (like an already certified system component, manufacturing procedure or material), analysis supported by tests, or a test. Consult the linked page for a complete list.
  • You need to provide a representative structure for at least one ultimate load test (and more if you need to test for collective loads over a certain number of flight hours or number of cycles). Your assumed loading must also be checked and cleared by the authorities. Normally, your type certificate will only cover the flight hours and cycles which have been successfully tested, and this will be expanded as testing progresses.
  • Since your MoC list will have many points that will require a flight test, you need to perform this flight testing in close cooperation with the certification authorities.

Your first design will be the hardest. New applicants will be subject to detailed inspections while experienced DOs will be cut some slack if enough confidence in their abilities has been earned.

The really hard part will be the operation of an uncrewed aircraft in regular airspace because here the regulations have not been finalized. You will have to follow the rules for manned airplanes as outlined above. Most likely you will need to establish a restricted airspace for operations and make sure that your airplane will stay in this area.

  • $\begingroup$ This is about as good an answer as this question could get, but as the question is tagged faa I'm not sure how useful EASA regulations will be. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Jun 17 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Jamiec True, but I'm much more familiar with EASA rules. However, FAA is not so different, except that they cut established manufacturers much more slack. Cough, cough Boeing Authorized Representatives, cough. $\endgroup$ Jun 17 at 13:20

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