Category Archives: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)

Forget Camera Drones. This Drone is Big Enough for You and Your Camera

Applied Technology Institute (ATIcourses) offers a variety of courses on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

  1. Unmanned Air Vehicle Design
  2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control
  3. Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals
  4. Unmanned Aircraft Systems Overview
  5. Unmanned Aircraft Systems – Sensing, Payloads & Products



The news below would be of interest to our readers.

Camera drones have exploded onto the scene in the past few years, and they’re being used by photographers around the world as a cheap and easy way to obtain aerial photos and videos. But what if you want both the convenience of a drone and the joy of being able to see and shoot things from the air with your own eyes and camera?

That’s where something like the Ehang 184 comes in: it’s a new giant drone that may one day fly both you and your camera.

Ehang, a Guangzhou, China-based company, is showing off the drone at CES 2016 in Las Vegas. Roughly the size of a small car, it’s a 4-foot-tall electric vehicle that looks like the oversized love child of a helicopter and a quadcopter (it has 8 propellers on 4 arms).

The 184 Personal Flying Vehicle (PFV) can carry a single person weighing up to 260 pounds and has a top speed of 62mph, a maximum altitude of 11,000 feet, a range of 10 miles, and a flight time of 23 minutes. Just like with many of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) out there, the 184 can fly itself without very much input from the passenger.

Using a simple app interface on a smartphone or tablet, you can tell the drone to take off, pause, and land with just a few taps. To determine where you’d like to fly, you can set waypoints using a map in the app.

Ehang says that the vehicle has a “fail safe system” that will immediately land you safely on the ground, even if any of the components malfunction or disconnect.

Other features in the drone include air conditioning, some storage space, a reading light, and a 4G connection.

The Ehang 184 is set to be commercially available sometime in 2016 with a price of around $200,000 to $300,000, Engadget reports. Given the increased restrictions on relatively small camera drones — the US government launched mandatory registrations— we’re guessing Ehang has a major uphill battle ahead of it if it hopes to see widespread use of the 184.

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3D-Printed UAV-Noah Eat Your Heart Out

Applied Technology Institute (ATI Courses) prides itself on offering the technical training in the latest technologies, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or drones.

UAS Multi-Rotor Small Operations Aug 24-30, 2015 Seattle, WA
UAS Multi-Rotor Small Operations Sep 28- Oct 4, 2015 New York, NY
UAS Multi-Rotor Small Operations Oct 3-9, 2015 Denver, CO
Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Sensing, Payloads & Products On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals On Site Your Facility

We believe the news below would be of interest to our readers.

It’s straight out of the classic Biblical tale, Noah’s Ark—when Noah deploys a dove from his vessel for a reconnaissance mission, post-flood. Except that the ark is a Royal Navy warship and the dove is a 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Last Tuesday, the HMS Mersey launched its Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULSA), the world’s first 3D-printed UAV, off the coast of Dorset, England—an aerodynamic feat that could revolutionize the economics of aircraft design.

SULSA was printed using laser-sintered nylon and is capable of flying up to 58 mph in near-perfect silence. With a wingspan of 1.5 meters, the six and a half pound craft flew 500 meters into the Wyke Regis Training Facility before landing on Chesil Beach.

The UAV is the brainchild of Project Triangle, a University of Southampton research team that has been working on perfecting designs for a 3D-printed UAV since 2011. Engineers wanted to focus on how a simple, yet rugged UAV frame could be constructed at a low cost. (Although other ship-launched drones exist, they are larger and cost millions of dollars.)

The frame itself required no assembly. Accessory equipment, such as the automation system and on-board camera, were attached, post-print, using “snap fit” techniques so that the entire aircraft could be assembled quickly and without any tools.

3D printing also afforded engineers with considerable design flexibility. For example, laser sintering has allowed the team to inexpensively manufacture an elliptical wing platform, which is known to offer drag benefits.

SULSA’s successful flight has demonstrated how small, lightweight UAVs can be easily created, assembled, and launched at sea should necessity arise (for example, in the aftermath of a natural disaster—Biblical or otherwise).

Check out the epic flight for yourself:

U.S. NAVY: New Museum Drone and Strategic Malpractice

150422-N-CE233-377 PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (April 22, 2015) The Navy's unmanned X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker while operating in the Atlantic Test Ranges over the Chesapeake Bay. This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled in flight. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Applied Technology Institute (ATICourses) offers the following courses on Unmanned Aerial Technology:

Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Sensing, Payloads & Products On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Jul 14-16, 2015 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals On Site Your Facility

4,000 pounds of fuel from a KC-707 tanker aircraft. This historic achievement followed last year’s equally revolutionary series of carrier launch and recovery operations by the X-47B.

You would think that the Navy, cognizant of the need to take advantage of the promise of robotics would be aggressively pushing to do further testing, to make unmanned carrier-based surveillance and strike aircraft real, and thus extend the reach and power of the aircraft carrier – the crown jewel of America’s conventional power projection forces. Instead, the Navy wants to decommission the two X-47Bs (named Salty Dog 501 and Salty Dog 502) and put them in museums, even though they have 80% of their approved flight hours left. Such an action flies in the face of the imperative to counter the most strategically troubling elements of the emerging set of anti-access/area-denial threats that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and his team are aiming to offset.

The need to take advantage of unmanned and increasingly autonomous systems to preserve the aircraft carrier’s operational relevance in anticipated threat environments is obvious. America’s potential adversaries are rapidly investing in capabilities designed to limit the ability of U.S. military forces to gain access to, and operate within, vast areas of the air and maritime domains.

For instance, a recent report from the Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century (discussed in this War on the Rocks article) ably details China’s development and fielding of modern missile-armed strike aircraft and surface combatants, quieter submarines armed with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes, and land-based anti-ship ballistic missiles such as the DF-21D. And Moscow’s recent decision to supply Iran with the S-300 surface-to-air missile system is illustrative of the broader proliferation of increasingly capable integrated air defense systems that threaten to outmatch not only the F/A-18E/F but also the as-yet deployed F-35C.

Cognizant of these emerging threats, as far back as the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, Pentagon leaders directed the Navy to “develop an unmanned longer-range carrier-based aircraft capable of being air-refueled to provide greater standoff capability, to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence.”

Last week’s demonstration of automated aerial refueling by an unmanned air system (UAS) was a critical component of proving that unmanned naval surveillance and strike operations are possible. While aviation buffs will emphasize its historical significance, astute strategists will zero in on the fact that the UAS in question – the Navy X-47B – is a prototype of a carrier-based, long-range surveillance-strike aircraft with the “broad-band/all-aspect” stealth design required for operating within air space defended by advanced integrated air defense systems. In combination, the X-47B’s successful carrier launch/recovery demonstration in 2013 and last week’s automated aerial refueling effectively prove that the system the Navy needs is technically feasible and within reach.

With aerial refueling, carrier-based UAS will be capable of conducting missions measured not in hours, but in days. For the first time in history, this would allow carrier-based aircraft to operate at intercontinental distances, enabling both rapid global responsiveness and the ability to stage persistent surveillance-strike operations from well outside most threats to the carrier.

While additional technology maturation and experimentation is surely needed before an advanced UAS can be fully integrated into carrier air wings, the Navy is at a strategic “tipping point” where a truly game-changing capability is within their grasp. The submarine-launched ballistic missile – which turned the Air Force’s nuclear “dyad” into the iconic Air Force-Navy triad that deterred the Soviets during the Cold War – is an apt analogue. Absent the submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Navy would have effectively ceded the critical strategic deterrence mission to the Air Force. Today is no different. Absent stealthy, air-refuelable, surveillance-strike UAS aboard its carriers, the Navy will invariably cede power projection – and thus the conventional deterrence mission – to the Air Force, which is developing a new stealth bomber and moving more aggressively on the UAS front.

Inexplicably, however, the Navy plans to end the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) and permanently deactivate the two X-47B aircraft by sending them to museums – doing irreversible damage to them in the process – despite having utilized only a small fraction of their available flight hours. Owing to repeated Navy “de-scoping” of the UCAS-D program over the past several years, much work remains before the Navy is ready to acquire carrier-based UAS at acceptable technical risk. Given the roughly $1.5B invested in UCAS-D to date, and that more technology maturation and experimentation is clearly required, the obvious question is: Why stop now?

The answer from the Navy, and from the naval aviation enterprise in particular, has been that there are no cost effective solutions for continued UCLASS risk mitigation with UCAS-D, and that a penetrating, air-refuelable, surveillance-strike unmanned aircraft would be too expensive. Both arguments are fundamentally flawed.

First, there are, in fact, myriad executable options for continued work on UCAS-D that would not only mitigate technical risk for UCLASS, but also substantially enhance the Navy’s readiness to integrate an operational UAS into the carrier air wing. Key areas for future UCAS-D enabled risk reduction include carrier control-area operations, deck handling, aerial refueling, command and control, sensor and weapon integration, survivability, and fleet experimentation. The simple truth is that UCAS-D has only scratched the surface. While some have argued that continuing UCAS-D would create an un-level competitive playing field for UCLASS, it is hard to understand how requirements for “carrier suitability” set by the government in 2007 after a fair and open competition, and defined in detail in 2011, are now anti-competitive – especially when data collected during the program would be available to all contractors competing on UCLASS.

Under current Navy plans, moreover, the UCLASS program is merely a Technology Demonstration effort slated to begin in roughly FY17, with first flight of the “UCLASS-D” aircraft planned for no earlier than FY20. To state the obvious, it would be much less costly and risky to utilize a flight-proven system during the technology and risk reduction phase of the procurement process rather than develop an entirely new demonstration aircraft. This is true even if continued utilization of the X-47B air vehicles required sustained, low-level investment in hardware and software modifications necessary to address different aspects of yet-to-be-finalized UCLASS requirements. Conversely, the five-year gap in carrier-based UAS flight-testing, demonstration, and experimentation inherent in the Navy’s current approach would likely delay the fielding of an operational aircraft. In other words, the Navy’s current path to carrier-based UAS acquisition is guaranteed not only to cost more and take longer, but also to introduce an unnecessary level of risk in both cost and schedule.

Which brings us to the last argument that proponents of the current flawed approach are making inside the Pentagon: that a penetrating, air-refuelable, counter-anti-access/area denial UAS would be dramatically more expensive than the surveillance-focused “spotter” that the Navy currently prefers. For the latter, the Navy has specified a requirement of 14 hours of unrefueled endurance while carrying a sensor suite and at least 1,000 pounds of weapons internally in low-to-medium threat environments. Meeting that objective would require a large-wingspan aircraft with a roughly 45,000 to 65,000-pound gross takeoff weight. A carrier-based surveillance-strike aircraft with somewhat less unrefueled endurance (8-10 hours – still three to four times that of the F/A-18E/F), a higher cruise speed, significantly increased internal weapons payload (~4,000 pounds), and enhanced survivability (i.e., broadband, all-aspect radar cross section reduction) would likely be in the middle of that gross takeoff weight range. With unit cost correlating closely with gross takeoff weight, both aircraft would likely fall within a similar range for overall cost.

Ironically, affordability in the age of austerity is perhaps the strongest argument for acquiring a stealthy, air-refuelable, surveillance-strike UAS. Whereas the “spotter” UAS – designed expressly to support manned fighters – would represent a purely additive air wing cost, a surveillance-strike UAS could replace the F/A-18E/F in lieu of a manned “F/A-XX” in the late 2020s. The potential cost savings are staggering. Owing to the elimination of pilot training as a driver of carrier-based aircraft force size and flight hours, if the Navy acquired a UAS instead of another manned aircraft to replace the Super Hornet, it could procure roughly half the number of aircraft (or less) and fly them fewer hours per year. Based on in-depth analysis of historical carrier-based aircraft life-cycle cost data, a forthcoming report by the Center for a New American Security projects a 25-year savings mounting into the tens of billions. This is a strategic-level cost offset that would allow the Navy to invest in additional aircraft, ships, and submarines.

At a time when DoD needs to squeeze more capability out of reduced investment budgets to meet acute security challenges, a carrier-based UAS that transforms the carrier into a frontline global attack arm while dramatically reducing the overall cost of the air wing represents a historic opportunity. For the Navy to prematurely destroy the X-47B planes and forfeit the opportunity to reduce risk, experiment, and learn for the next five years constitutes strategic malpractice of the highest order.

At least Congress has taken notice, with Senator John McCain, Congressman Randy Forbes, and others urging the Navy to right its course and ensure America’s aircraft carriers and their air wings can deter and defeat future adversaries. We recommend Congress add funding to the FY2016 budget to keep the UCAS-D air vehicles flying while the Pentagon completes its reevaluation of final requirements for a future carrier-based UAS and it enters into development.

With Congressional leaders acting, it’s time for leaders in the Pentagon to do the same. Last year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense forestalled the Navy’s release of a flawed UCLASS request for proposals and launched a review to study UCLASS requirements in the context of the joint family of airborne surveillance and strike platforms. With the fate of UCAS-D in the balance, it is again time for the Pentagon’s civilian leaders to weigh in to keep the promise of carrier-based UAS operations alive. Secretary Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus need to act before a historic opportunity is squandered. Pentagon officials like to talk about innovation, experimentation, and halting the erosion of America’s military-technological edge. It’s time for their rhetoric to translate into action.

Robert Martinage is Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Shawn Brimley is Executive Vice President at the Center for a New American Security. Both former Pentagon officials, they testified before the House Armed Services Committee on this issue in June 2014.

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The Obama administration to sell armed drones to allies


The United States said Tuesday that it will allow for the first time the export of armed drones to some allied countries.

Armed drones are a cornerstone of Washington’s military strategy against armed groups and militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“The United States is the world’s technological leader in the development and deployment of military Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, or drones),” the State Department said in a statement.

“As other nations begin to employ military UAS more regularly and as the nascent commercial UAS market emerges, the United States has a responsibility to ensure that sales, transfers, and subsequent use of all US-origin UAS are responsible and consistent with US national security and foreign policy interests, including economic security, as well as with US values and international standards.”

The statement did not say which countries would be customers, but several allies are eager to get their hands on the hardware, with The Washington Post citing Italy, Turkey and the Gulf.

So far, the United States has sold its armed drones only to close ally Britain, the newspaper said.

“The technology is here to stay,” a senior State Department official told the Post. “It’s to our benefit to have certain allies and partners equipped appropriately.”

Drones are hugely controversial with many campainging against their use, pointing to the devastating impact these weapons have on civilians.

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Commercial drones coming to skies near you!

Applied Technology Institute (ATI Courses) offers the following courses on Unmanned Aircraft Technology:

Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Sensing, Payloads & Products Sep 15-18, 2014 Dayton, OH
Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Sensing, Payloads & Products Nov 3-6, 2014 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control On Site Your Facility
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Nov 11-13, 2014 Dayton, OH
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Feb 17-19, 2015 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals Feb 24-26, 2015 Columbia, MD

The news below should be of interest to our readers.

Although drones seem to be in wide use elsewhere, the Federal Aviation Administration is nervous about letting U.S. skies fill up with them, citing safety and privacy concerns. The FAA already fined a photographer $10,000 for taking commercial pictures of a university by drone. It was overturned in court, but the FAA is appealing the decision.

Meanwhile, real estate agents are having a field day, literally, flying drones over houses to show buyers a different perspective, ignoring the fact that this is against the law.

Amazon head Jeff Bezos says he foresees the day when an Amazon order is delivered in 30 minutes by drone. Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s the “Divergent” series from Amazon. He has teamed up with three drone manufacturers to lobby for government permission.

Those less-than-reputable journalists who try to invade private weddings, bar mitzvahs and celebrity birthday parties would love to use drones anywhere they want to get pictures.

Film producers see great potential in using drones to get aerial shots with far less cost and risk.

Not so fast, say U. S. regulators, including the FAA and Department of Transportation.  Congress wants regulations ready by September 2015. But nobody expects that deadline to be met.

Canada, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom are far ahead of the U.S. in commercial drone use.

While American hobbyists fly drones (not near airports or higher than 400 feet), most Americans seem to be leery of weird unidentified objects buzzing over their heads.

Read more here.

What is your opinion on this issue?  Please comment below.

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Black Knight Transformer — A Military Octorotor You Can Ride In

Applied Technology Institute (ATICourses) offers multiple courses on unmanned aerial vehicle technology.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems- Sensing, Payloads & Products
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals

We saw this pop up a few times before and to be honest, we weren’t sure if it was actually real or not. This is the Advanced Tactics Black Knight Transformer — the world’s first VTOL (vertical take off and landing) aircraft that also doubles as an off-road vehicle.

Designed and built in California, it just received government approval and Advanced Tactics has released the first driving and flight test video. It was apparently designed as a rapid-response evacuation vehicle for wounded soldiers in war affected zones. It features a whopping eight individually driven rotors that swing out on “transforming” arms during flight. It also has a removable ground drive-train which can be swapped out for an amphibious boat hull, or even a cargo pod!

At the forefront of large-scale multicopter design and manufacturing, we looked around Advanced Tactic’s website a bit and found another one of their projects, the Transformer Panthers UAS — a miniature version of the Black Knight, designed as a small unmanned aircraft system that is also capable of land and sea use.

Let us know what you think!


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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: The History Goes Back Further Than You Would Think!

Applied Technology Institute (ATI Courses) is scheduled to present the following courses on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control May 20-22, 2014 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Apr 22-24, 2014 Dayton, OH

I’ve always thought that UAV technology was the invention of the end of the 20th century looking something like the video below.

How wrong I was!


I think our readers will find the information below quite interesting.

Austria was the first country to use unmanned aerial vehicles for combat purposes. In 1849, the Austrian military attached explosives to five large balloons and sent them to attack the city of Venice. Some of the balloons were blown off course, but others managed to hit targets within the city.

The concept of pilotless aerial combat units resurfaced during World War I when military scientists began building devices such as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. This craft was essentially an airborne bomb and was controlled using gyroscopes. After witnessing the capabilities of the Automatic Airplane, the U.S. military began working on precursors to modern cruise missiles called aerial torpedoes. The first aerial torpedo was dubbed the Kettering Bomb. Developed in 1918, the Kettering Bomb could be guided by an onboard gyroscope toward targets located up to 75 miles from its launch point.

Aerial Torpedo attached to AircraftAerial Torpedo attached to Aircraft

A British World War I veteran namedReginald Denny opened a model plane shop in Hollywood in 1934. Denny eventually began producing radio-controlled aircraft that could be used for training purposes by anti-aircraft gunners. The Army hired Denny and produced thousands of drones for use during World War II. The Navy also began producing radio-controlled aircraft around this time. In 1942, a Navy assault drone successfully hit an enemy destroyer with a torpedo.

After World War II, Reginald Denny’s company continued to build target drones for the U.S. military. The drones became increasingly advanced to keep up with manned combat aircraft. During the Cold War, some of these drones were converted for reconnaissance purposes. Based on the successful Ryan Firebee target drone model, the Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug series of drones was used to spy on targets in China, Vietnam, and Korea in the 1960s and ’70s. The Soviet Union developed its own photo reconnaissance drones, although little is known about these devices. Drones were also used as decoys during combat operations.

Unmanned aircraft vehicles were largely seen as impractical, unreliable, and expensive until 1982 when Israel successfully used the devices against the Syrian Air Force. The Israeli Air Force used the drones for video reconnaissance, distractions, and electronic jamming of Syrian equipment. They were also used to destroy Syrian aircraft without risking the lives of Israeli pilots. The success of Israel’s UAV project convinced the United States military to start developing more unmanned aircraft. The U.S. now has a large fleet of UAVs used to deceive detection systems such as radar and sonar.

General Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAVGeneral Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAV

The General Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAV was used extensively during Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as operations in Afghanistan. The Predator was initially designed for reconnaissance purposes, but attaching Hellfire missiles and other weaponry made it an effective way to destroy enemy targets. Today, the military continues to improve UAVs with photovoltaic cells and other modern technology. Drones are also used domestically for surveillance, disaster relief, immigration control, and law enforcement.


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Drone Malfunctions, Crashes Right Back Into Navy Ship

It has been a no-good-very-bad week for drones. First an MQ-9 Reaper crashed on a training mission over Lake Ontario, and now the Navy is saying that a target drone helping the USS Chancellorsville slammed right back into it. Good grief.P

Target drones are regularly used to help calibrate and test weapons systems, because putting an actual guy in a plane while everyone aims at them and everyone hopes nobody sneezes is kind of unrealistic. That’s exactly what was going on off of Point Mugu in California when the drone went on the fritz and slammed right back into the US Navy cruiser, according to USA Today.

Two sailors are being treated for burns, which doesn’t make it sound like the thing exactly went plunk and bounced off the side.

The Chancellorsville is now headed back to San Diego for assessment of the damage and repairs.

While drones have been around more than 20 years now, they’re still relatively new technology and kinks are still being worked out.

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Remote Control Aircraft Pilot Trappy Fined $10,000 By The FAA

It took them over two years to put this fine together after Trappy posted his video online. Not that it matters that much for him personally as he lives in Europe. He also has some footage online of NYC and the Statue of Liberty from his plane, which I would expect the FAA wouldn’t like as well. Stay safe…and don’t be famous for the wrong reasons.

the following from “The FAA has fined the pilot of an R/C airplane, which it classifies as a UAS, $10,000 for what the agency says is the reckless and careless operation of a Ritewing Zephyr powered glider aircraft in the vicinity of the University of Virginia (UVA), Charlottesville, Virginia. According to the FAA, the operator… whose name is Raphael Pirker but who is known as “Trappy” … was the pilot in command of the aircraft, and that he does not “possess a Federal Aviation Administration pilot certificate.” The Order of Assessment (Docket No. 2012EA210009) charges that Trappy operated the aircraft with a camera aboard that sent real-time video to the ground; that the flight was performed for compensation; and that he operated the aircraft at altitudes of approximately 10 feet to approximately 400 feet over the University of Virginia in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” more here


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Remotely Operated Aircraft

Applied Technology Institute (ATI Courses) is scheduled to present the following Unmanned Aircraft Courses below.

Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Sep 24-26, 2013 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Jan 28-30, 2014 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals Jul 23-25, 2013 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals Feb 25-27, 2014 Columbia, MD

This is an article that we think will be of interest to our students. It was written by Alon Unger – UVID 2013 Conference Chairman – Israel – 10.10.2013and originally appeared at


The global demand for unmanned systems, in conjunction with the high rate of technological progress in this field, often leads to these weapon systems being fielded before they reach operational and logistic maturity.

The rapid growth in the number of companies engaged in unmanned systems and the rapid technological progress made in the fields of miniaturization, electrooptics, communication, and computers, have led to a situation where state-of-the-art technology is installed in these systems. This, in turn, creates numerous challenges for everyone involved.

The most significant implication of the uniqueness of unmanned systems is that they are technology-intensive systems that make it possible to set advanced operational challenges and objectives in diversified operating environments. This requires that the personnel operating these systems have a high level of proficiency and professionalism. In addition, this proficiency includes numerous capabilities and skills beyond the mere steering of the airborne platform and the operation of the payloads.

In UAV systems (also called UAS – Unmanned Aerial Systems), which are controlled in real time, the operator normally occupies a remotely located ground control station where he must analyze the status of the system, the operational environment, and real-time occurrences through “remote control” sensing. He understands, for example, the weather  conditions at a distance of tens to hundreds of kilometers, without being able to see the whole environment through the canopy, or identify a drop in engine thrust merely through the gauges, without physically sensing it. These seemingly simple tasks necessitate proficiency from a distance.

As part of current UAS development efforts, two prominent factors directly affect system operation. The first factor, which mainly affects the steering and system operation, provides advanced capabilities to the aircraft, including a higher degree of autonomy and automation, improved reliability, extended operation and communication ranges, and upgraded propulsion systems. In addition to simplifying system control, reducing the number of operators at the ground control station, and improving the basic safety standards, these technological capabilities often have the opposite effect on the operating aspect.

One example of a negative side effect is the deterioration in basic operator proficiency. This has the potential to damage the operator’s ability to cope with emergency situations, or in extreme cases, conceive the steering of the UAV as the operation of a flying model aircraft. This consequently affects the basic operator training standards (this conceptual error is typical made by countries taking their first steps into the field of unmanned systems).

The second factor, which mainly affects the mission and interpretation aspect, is improving and adding mission capabilities through new payloads or through the improvement of existing ones. This trend significantly raises the level of complexity for the operator. Today, operators are required to control multiple payload types (Electro-Optical, IR, SAR, EW, SIGINT) in different environments (close and long range, urban and open terrain, day and night, extreme weather conditions, and so forth), and be able to effectively execute a range of mission types. Such missions include intelligence collection, close surveillance support for advancing ground forces, battle damage assessment, and many others.

In the last decade, these factors were supplemented by the objective of reducing the number of operators at the ground control station. This process, whose primary objective is improved efficiency, does not necessarily improve mission performance, and often leads to an increased operating workload to the point of rendering mission execution impossible, or at times, failing to steer the UAV in a reasonably safe manner. For example, the majority of Mini-UAV systems boast the ability to have the mission executed by a single operator. Technically, this system operation is possible. However, a simple analysis of the operator’s functional characteristics will show that the mission environment and the number of simultaneous activities (system control, payload control, maintaining and tracking target contact, reporting, etc.) usually do not allow for the mission to be executed effectively and safely by a single operator.

This insight is further emphasized when the background of the operating personnel is less than optimal. This is currently the case in several countries around the world where the relevant authorities are not sufficiently stringent about screening and selecting the appropriate personnel for the execution of these systems and missions.

A review of the psychological aspect also suggests that UAV operators are unique. A US study published in 2009 examined the population of Predator (MQ-1) UAV operators in the US. The study established a correlation between the nature of their activity and extremely high levels of fatigue, sleep disorders, and stress. Other studies established a  circumstantial correlation with high psychological pressures emanating from cognitive and emotional transitions in the operational daily routine of UAV operators and from the rapid leaps between the executions of critical operational missions over the battlefield to daily life with family.

The gamut of environmental, mission, and technological variables has made the operation of UAV systems much more complex than ever before.

UAV operators are required to be technically proficient in and professionally knowledgeable about numerous technological measures and different computer environments, all while having to meet their operational objectives in real time. Even for a seasoned, highly skilled operator, this constitutes a major challenge.
The following variables illustrate the range of capabilities and characteristics UAV operators are required to possess: multitasking, working under pressure and making decisions in real time, good spatial perception, teamwork, assertiveness, perseverance, patience, service awareness, work ethics, maturity, creativity, a methodical approach, and an ability to learn quickly. Accordingly, these implications should be reviewed through the aspects of selecting the operators, training them, maintaining their competence, assembling teams, developing careers, adding mission tools, assimilation, and legislation.

The Human Factor aspects are also particularly important in layouts and system engineering required to apply remote control operations, such as UAV systems. Most of the current studies that deal with analyzing the causes of UAV accidents and the performance standards of UAV systems have established that the human factor is the most influential element with regards to the two variables outlined above. To date, most UAV accidents are caused by failures linked to the human factor, such as faulty user interface design, operating errors, and other factors, all coming under the definition of “Human Error.”

One prominent example of this is the investigation of the crash of the Predator B (MQ-9) UAV in Arizona on April 25, 2006. The National Transportation Safety Board, who investigated the accident, came up with numerous variables that may have caused the crash, most of which are linked to the human factor. One of the lessons drawn from this accident suggests that the phenomenon of gaps in this field far exceed the boundaries of this particular accident that are prevalent in all UAV systems.

Many years ago, Israel identified the Human Factor aspect as a primary factor in system performance and safety standards. Accordingly, for many years afterwards, human factor professionals were involved in the field of UAVs in Israel. However, even in Israel, the investments made in the effort to develop the system around the operator are in no way similar to the investments made in manned systems. This gap is especially evident on the ground, often because of the absence of specific standards for this field.

“The Human Behind the Unmanned System Will Make the Difference” is a slogan I invented many years ago. Since then, I have often been asked to explain it by using various aspects outlined in this article.

The complexity of UAV systems environment parameters, the technological race, and above all, the increasingly ambitious operational demands, are external variables that are likely to remain with us for many years to come. Understanding the central role that the human element plays in unmanned systems is a process that has just begun. As such, we must internalize the axiom “the system is only as good as its operator.”

In the last year, the US has begun to change their definitions of UAVs from “Unmanned Vehicles” to “Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).” This trend, which amends the system manning issue, may lead to a change in the prevailing concept regarding the central role played by the human element, and could also lead to a change in Israel’s concepts and terminology. Nevertheless, it raises an historical debate of Pilot vs. Operators issue. Personally, I would recommend the term “Remotely Operated Aircraft” but this is an issue for another article.

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