Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A new state report has recognized the contributions of the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL) to Iowa’s aviation industry. 

The Iowa Aviation Economic Impact Report 2022 was created for the Iowa Department of Transportation as an effort to evaluate and quantify the uses and benefits of aviation in Iowa.

“The OPL is a cutting edge facility that is leading the way for advancements in UAS (uncrewed aircraft systems) technology,” the report states.

OPL is a flight test laboratory directed by Tom “Mach” Schnell, Captain Jim “Max” Gross Chair in Engineering and OPL’s chief test pilot. Schnell is also a professor of industrial and systems engineering and associate director of the Iowa Technology Institute. 

OPL conducts $2 million in research annually, focused on human in-the-loop and autonomous systems aerospace and aviation.

The team of approximately 20 staff members, several graduate students, and a fleet of 11 manned and unmanned aircraft are based in hangers at the Iowa City Municipal Airport. Key partners include Collins Aerospace and a variety of federal agencies including NASA, DARPA, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Navy.

The report highlights OPL’s work on “autonomy-related functions for UAS using their surrogate aircraft to test lidar applications for obstruction detection, inertia measurement systems, ultra-high bandwidth data links, and communication infrastructure for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations of UAS.

OPL is part of the $28.1 million in direct and indirect spending from the uncrewed aircraft systems sector of the aviation industry in Iowa.