Tag Archives: UAV

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.

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

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.


Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

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 http://www.israeldefense.com/?CategoryID=472&ArticleID=1646


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.

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Are you OK with growing use of unmanned drones in U.S.?

It’s happening in the United States more and more. A technology once confined to foreign battlefields is becoming increasingly common in domestic airspace.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

The more than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than many outsiders and privacy experts previously knew. They include not only agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security but also smaller ones such as the police departments in North Little Rock, Ark., and Ogden, Utah, as well the University of North Dakota and Nicholls State University in Louisiana.

What do you think about this trend?

– Does it worry you … or reassure you?

– Should drones be limited or welcomed like other new technology?

– Does your right to privacy extend to the airspace above your home or business?

– Would you accept any drone as long as it is unarmed?

If you have a comment on this  topic, post it below now!

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Warfare of the future: does it belong to the drones?

There is no doubt that the use of unmanned aircrafts or drones has seen a tremendous growth over the last few years. Since 2005 there has been a 1,200% increase in combat air patrols by UAVs. Al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone only last month. But does this mean that the future belongs to UAS? What are the pros and cons of using unmanned aircraft vehicles vs manned?

What are the pros and cons of UAVs?

Pros include:

    1) significantly lower cost compared to manned vehicles (although they can get pretty expensive depending on their sophistication); this should allow the military to buy UAVs in much larger quantities than manned aircraft
    2) expendability, you can afford to send them into heavily defended areas and risk losing some without endangering a pilot
    3) more maneuverable than manned planes without the limitations of a human pilot
    4) can be built stealthier than a manned plane since one of the least stealthy parts of the aircraft (the cockpit) is unnecessary
    5) should be lighter, smaller, and easier to transport

Cons include:

    1) limitations of their programming, may not be able to compensate for the changing battlefield environment (such as being able to attack a new more desirable target that appeared after the aircraft was launched or changing course to avoid enemy defenses)
    2) because they are typically smaller than a manned plane, they cannot carry as large a payload (however, they do generally have a greater ratio of payload to total weight)
    3) along the same lines, they may not be able to carry as much fuel and therefore may have a shorter range
    4) typically tailored to specific kinds of missions and not as versatile as a modern multi-role fighter
    5) if contact is lost with a ground station, the vehicle may be lost

Overall, but the pilot in the cockpit is already an endangered species.

What is your opinion? Please comment below.

Read more here.

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Do You Have a Need to Know about Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)?

MQ-9 Reaper Taxis Down the Runway
MQ-9 Reaper Taxis Down the Runway
Video Clip: Click to Watch
ATI offers Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) course

Worldwide commercial, government and military use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) is expected to increase significantly in the future, placing unprecedented demands on scare radio resources. In fact, the Teal Group’s 2009 market study estimates that UAS spending will almost double over the next decade, from current worldwide UAS expenditures of $4.4 billion annually to $8.7 billion within a decade
Will YOU need to learn more about this exciting field?

Applied Technology Institute (ATI) is pleased to announce their one-day short course on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Since 1984, the Applied Technology Institute (ATI) has provided leading-edge public courses and onsite technical training to DoD and NASA personnel, as well as contractors.

With the practical knowledge you will gain from this course, you can recognize the different classes and types of UAVs, how to optimize their specific applications, how to evaluate and compare UAS capabilities, interact meaningfully with colleagues and master the UAS terminology.

Are UAVs coming to airspace near you?

Do you want to learn more about UAS but:

• Don’t have time for a full semester course?

• Is the nearest campus all the way across town?

• Can’t move to North Dakota for an undergrad degree in UAS?

If one or more of situations apply to you or you are just in need of more UAS-related knowledge, then boost your career with the information needed to provide better, faster, and cheaper solutions for your customers.

Why not take our UAS short course instead?

This one-day course is designed to help you keep your professional knowledge up-to-date on the use, regulation and development of these complex systems.

Course Outline, Samplers, and Notes

If you sign up for this class, whether you are a busy engineer, a technical expert or a project manager, you will enhance your understanding of these complex systems in a short time. Here is the instructor, Mr. Mark N. Lewellen, with an introduction to his class on YouTube.

Still not convinced?

Then please see our UAS Course Slide Sampler with actual course materials. After attending the course you will receive a full set of detailed notes from the class for future reference, as well as a certificate of completion. Please visit our website for more valuable information.

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Watch Quadrotor Drone UAV Playing Catch at the Flying Machine Arena research facility at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich

Have your played catch with your UAV today?

IF you want to learn more about UAVs and see more videos, see my Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Applications course at http://www.aticourses.com/unmanned_aircraft_systems.html

Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Persistent surveillance on a non-satellite budget is goal of U.S. military airship development

Tony White, Owner at Galaxy Blimps LLC and a member of my LinkedIn UAS group, is quoted extensively in this article.
I used to work for an airship startup called SkyStation International and they do have their advantages (and disadvantages to be sure).
They (and aerostats) also work well with UAS.

Going back as far as the American Civil War,lighter-than-air vehicles — airships, hot air balloons, and aerostats — have performed a variety of missions for the military.

During World War I large military airships dropped bombs and performed surveillance. For a brief period of time in the 1930s the U.S. explored using them as “flying aircraft carriers,” says Ron Browning business development lead for persistent surveillance at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors in Akron, Ohio.

Today, U.S. forces deploy these floating platforms as eyes in the sky in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world to perform persistent surveillance, which means missions that last days, weeks, and even months up in the air.

“Persistent surveillance is around the clock — 24/7 — monitoring for an extended period of time, monitoring that is in stark contrast to that provided by aircraft, which have surveillance-time limitations dictated by fuel consumption/capacity,” says Maj. Robert Rugg, assistant product manager persistent surveillance devices for the U.S. Army Program Manager Robotic and Unmanned Systems office in Huntsville, Ala.

There are two main types of lighter-than-air vehicles used or in development for military operations — airships and aerostats, Browning says. “An aerostat is tethered while an airship is free flying,” he explains.

Two free-flying programs in development are the High Altitude Airship (HAA) being developed by Browning’s team at Lockheed Martin and the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV), being designed by Northrop Grumman in Melbourne, Fla., for medium altitudes, Browning says. They are both airship platforms.


The most deployed vehicles at the moment are aerostats, which often are used with unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) or as a relatively inexpensive replacement to UASs to provide non-stop coverage of strategic areas.

“Aerostats are capable of continuous coverage over (typically) a fixed area in a wide range of operational weather conditions,” Rugg says. “UASs have a reduced operational environment and cannot continuously remain in the air for an extended period of time. However, the extended mobility provided by a UAS allows for a better view of a particular point of interest. In this way, each system is able to capitalize on its inherent advantage, while propping up the limiting aspects of the other — optimally, a force is able to utilize both systems as complementary to each other.

Aerostats and free-flying airships also are under consideration for border control instead of UASs, says Tony White, owner of Galaxy Blimps in Dallas — www.galaxyblimps.com. A UAS does not work as well on the border due to the coverage advantages that a host of aerostats airships would have, he continues.

While not easy at first to steer aerostats are more rugged than one might think. “We also can launch into heavy winds, while UASs can’t,” White says. Even in 70 knot winds in Afghanistan, aerostats were able to hold their position in the mooring station, White says. Aerostats are not as vulnerable to enemy attack as one might assume, Browning says. “We’re flying at the upper limit to be vulnerable to small arms fire,” he adds.

As Aerostats are low pressure systems so if a bullet hole or other hole pops up it “doesn’t go pop like a party balloon” Browning says. Instead the helium oozes out instead of gassing out, with degradation in lift altitude occurring over time instead of instantly, he explains. “It can fly when nothing else is flying,” Browning says.

“Despite the innovative nature of the systems, aerostats, in fact, have the great advantage of payload integration and flight qualification timelines that are much shorter than that of other aircraft,” Rugg continues. “Moreover, aerostats are typically more flexible in terms of the payloads they are able to carry. Weight limitations are the paramount issue with aerostats; some aircraft have lots of available size, weight, and power (SWAP).”

Persistent threat detection

One aerostat program currently seeing action in Iraq and Afghanistan is the Army’s Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS), which has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan during Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom respectively, Browning says. PTDS is run by Rugg’s team in Huntsville produced by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

PTDS is a tethered system, which flies like a kite with no propulsion, Browning says. The system, first deployed by the Army in 2004, is a 74,000-cubic-foot envelope full of helium and aerodynamically-shaped always pointed into the wind with fins and a tail system and is always buoyant, he adds. The maximum altitude is 5,000 feet above ground level, Browning says.

“PTDS has the unique sustained operations capability that exceeds 20 continuous days,” Rugg notes.

The system carries one or two electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) sensor payloads as well as other communications payloads, Rugg says. The EO sensors are mostly commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), he adds. The EO/IR payload — the MX-20 Lite from L-3 Wescam in Toronto, Ontario — is attached on the underside of the aerostat, Browning says.

The MX-20 is a turret system that uses high-definition technology, says Paul Jennison, vice president of business development for L-3 Wescam. Included in the system is digital infrared capability, a color daylight camera, mono camera for night, and lasers for range finding and illumination — that illuminates targets for ground for troops who have night vision goggles, he continues.

The only real adjustment made for the aerostat application was adding a heat exchanger for thermal management in the static air, Jennison says. “Our system also has gone through the full spectrum of MIL-STD testing for humidity, salt, fog, and dust environments,” he adds.

The PTDS communication links have extended range for deployed troops, Browning says. The sensor can provide full-motion vision to the warfighter on the ground. “Imagine the value of that to combat teams,” Browning adds.

“Based on experience in theater, a second EO/IR sensor has been added. Furthermore, due to on site weather conditions, lightning detection equipment has been added, as well as the ability to broadcast video to mobile troops carrying OSRVT (One System Remote Video Terminal),” Rugg says. “Additionally, the mooring system has been modularized to allow transport to more remote forward operating bases.”

In addition to the aerostat, tether, and sensor payload, PTDS also has a mobile mooring platform, mission payloads, ground-control station, maintenance and officer shelter, power generators, and site-handling equipment, Browning says.

The ground-control station for an aerostat is typically on site, Rugg says. These ground-control stations are not that different from that of a UAS ground station, and “include such elements as operator consoles, workstations, tactical setup. The operating crew for a ground station is the same crew that launches and recovers the aerostat,” he adds.

Most of the electronics in the ground-control station is COTS, Rugg says. “There are two workstations for command and control of EO/IR sensors, networking equipment, UPS, aerostat flight control and monitoring computer and display as well as an Unattended Transient Acoustic MASINT Sensor (UTAMS) computer. UTAMS is an acoustic fire-detection sensor capable of locating point of impact/origin of rockets, mortars, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”

High-altitude airships

Lockheed Martin’s HAA — being developed for the Army — will act as a surveillance platform, telecommunications relay, or a weather observer, Browning says. Different electro-optic sensor payloads will be configured for different intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, he continues. Once it reaches its location it can survey a 600-mile diameter and millions of cubic miles of airspace.

In April 2008, the HAA program transferred from the Missile Defense Agency to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, located at Huntsville, Ala. The command designing the HAA to align with the command’s mission

“The big thing to understand is that no lighter than airship has ever flown more than a few hours at more than 60,000 feet,” let alone six months, Browning says. Conventional airships have demonstrated days of endurance in the past.  Current blimps for sporting events can fly for 12 plus hours, depending on conditions, he adds.

The HAA will be about 500 feet long and 150 feet high, and be airborne for six months or more at a time, Browning says. It will be launched to an area of interest and park there, he continues. It will have a sensor communication link capability for deployed troops on field to get where they want to get to, Browning adds.

“We are currently developing and demonstrating the high altitude airship concept,” Browning says. The demonstration program is called the High Altitude Long Endurance-Demonstrator (HALE-D), he adds.

HALE-D will fly this summer air at an altitude of 60,000 ft and operating for a couple weeks using small, modest payload consistent with the demonstration, Browning says.

Free flying aircraft steer and navigate from one location to another so the all-electric HALE-D will need to operate at neutral buoyancy, Browning says. Goodyear blimps are always scary, taking off with heavy with fuel, which then burns, making the aircraft more light and buoyant.

One way to avoid that problem at take off is by having all-electric system that uses solar energy panels and stores the energy in batteries or rechargeable fuel cells for night flying. Propulsion units will lift the HALE-D aloft and guide its takeoff and landing during, Browning says.

The long-term operational goal — beyond the HALE-D is large with more than ton of payload onboard the HAA, Browning says. The large payload berth provides a lot of flexibility in payload design and capability, he continues. “It can really open the imagination of the sensor designer,” Browning adds.

The sensor technology is already available on a lot of aircraft, Browning says. However as with some existing airborne and spaceborne platforms the biggest challenge is reliability. Once the system is launched it won’t be brought down for several months, so you need sensors that last in tough environments.

The HALE-D sensors include a Thales MMAR modem, an L-3 Communications mini CDL, and an electro-optical system from ITT Geospatial Systems in Rochester, N.Y., Browning says.

ITT provided a long focal-length panchromatic electro-optical (EO) camera with GPS/Inertial Navigation System (INS) and pointing capability for the HALE-D program, says David A. Parkes, senior business development manager at ITT Geospatial Systems.

“An unmanned high-altitude platform does bring unique challenges in designing EO solutions,” Parkes says. “First, it’s very high flight altitudes bring very cold temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius and little air, which makes it challenging to both start up and maintaining proper electronics temperatures. It is more space-like than airborne. The ascent to these high altitudes also drives the need for all components to be able to outgas, so they are not damaged (e.g. optical lens). The second challenge is that current payload capacities for high altitude platforms are relatively small, which drives the need for very light weight and low power payloads.”

“The objectives and funding of this EO system were primarily for functional demonstration on this exciting high-altitude platform,” Parkes continues. “This drove a highly COTS-based solution. Future high-altitude EO systems will require designs that provide higher performance and high reliability that will leverage space systems designs without space system costs.”

Long-endurance airships

Northrop Grumman’s LEMV program completed its critical design review (CDR) six months after signing the agreement with the U.S. Army. Under that agreement the company will build three airships with 21-day persistent ISR capability, according to a Northrop Grumman release. Northrop Grumman officials declined to be interviewed for this story.

“The power of the LEMV system is that its persistent surveillance capability is built around Northrop Grumman’s open architecture design, which provides plug-and-play payload capability to the warfighter and room for mission growth,” says Alan Metzger, Northrop Grumman vice president and integrated program team leader of LEMV and airship programs in the company release. “The system rapidly accommodates next-generation sensors as emerging field requirements dictate and will provide increased operational utility to battlefield commanders. Today, our system readily integrates into the Army’s existing Universal Ground Control Station and Deployable Common Ground System command centers and ground troops in forward operating bases.

“While LEMV is longer than a football field and taller than a seven-story building, it utilizes approximately 3,500 gallons of fuel for the air vehicle to remain aloft for a 21-day period of service, that’s approximately $11,000 at commercial prices.

“We’ll have hull inflation in the spring and first flight of the airship test article by mid-to-late summer,” he says. Upon completion of the development ground and flight testing phase, we expect to transition to a government facility and conduct our final acceptance long endurance flight just before year’s end. In early 2012, LEMV will participate in an Army Joint Military Utility Assessment in an operational environment.”

Northrop Grumman’s industry team includes Hybrid Air Vehicles, Ltd. of the England, Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corp., SAIC in McLean, Va., and a team of organizations from 18 U.S. states and three countries. In addition to leading the program, Northrop Grumman leads the system integration, and flight and ground control operations for the unmanned vehicle.


Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

AeroVironment Receives $46.2 Million Order for Raven UAS and Digital Retrofit Kits

MONROVIA, Calif., December 28, 2010 — AeroVironment, Inc. (AV) (NASDAQ:AVAV) announced today that it received an order valued at $46,226,984 under an existing contract with the U.S. Army. The order comprises 123 new digital Raven® small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and initial spares packages as well as 186 digital retrofit kits for the U.S. Marine Corps. The order also includes 339 digital retrofit kits for the U.S. Army. The Raven system and retrofit order represents the remainder of the funds appropriated for RQ-11B Raven system procurement in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which was signed into law in December 2009.

The orders were released under the existing U.S. Army joint small UAS program of record for AV’s Raven. This program has included contract additions from the Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command. The items and services provided under these awards on this multi-year contract are fully funded. Work is scheduled to be performed within a period of 12 months.

“Raven systems have proven their value and reliability to military services across the U.S. Department of Defense,” said Tom Herring, AV senior vice president and general manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems. “These backpackable, hand-launched unmanned systems provide situational awareness directly to our warfighters, increasing mission effectiveness and safety. We remain focused on supporting our customers with reliable solutions and developing ever more capable solutions.”

The Raven unmanned aircraft is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched sensor platform that provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and “around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of tactical units. U.S. armed forces use Raven systems extensively for missions such as base security, route reconnaissance, mission planning and force protection. Each Raven system typically consists of three aircraft, two ground control stations and spares.

In addition to the Raven system, AV’s small UAS include Puma™ and Wasp™, which are also hand-launched and controlled by AV’s hand-held ground control station. Each aircraft in AV’s family of small UAS is interoperable and tailored to address a variety of operational user needs. AV’s UAS logistics operation supports systems deployed worldwide to ensure a consistently high level of operational readiness. AV has delivered thousands of small unmanned aircraft to date. International purchasers of Raven systems include Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Norway.

The Raven unmanned aircraft is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched sensor platform that provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and “around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of tactical units.


Montana drone aircraft program kicks off

Whitefish resident and state senator Ryan Zinke thinks Montana is the right place to begin using “drone” unmanned aircraft technology for non-military purposes.

Following a year of coordination and organizing, several selected academic and research institutions within Montana have signed a collaborative agreement with Mississippi State University to jointly create an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Center of Excellence.

Representatives from Montana State University-Bozeman, Montana State University-Northern and Rocky Mountain College-Billings signed the agreement at a kick-off ceremony in Bozeman on Dec. 1. Representatives from the UAS industry, Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s Office of Economic Development, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, and Rep. Denny Rehberg were also in attendance.

UAS, also known as drone aircraft, have gained attention in recent years for their military use overseas and have emerged as a growing multi-billion dollar industry.

“UAS will transition from today’s military-centric role to important civilian applications, such as research, farming and forest management,” said Zinke, a co-director of the project. “UAS are ideal tools for conducting a vast array activities that are currently done by more expensive methods, such as satellite imagery or manned aircraft.”

Examples include using spectrum analysis equipment to look at light reflecting off plants — agricultural crops or forests — to detect insect impacts or the need for watering or fertilizer. Farmers could save money by focusing efforts on smaller crop areas, Zinke said.

The same technology could be used to analyze snow depth, which would help electric companies more accurately assess future hydropower output and improve flooding forecasts. Drone aircraft could provide better information than satellites during cloudy days and beneath smoke from wildfires, helping fire crews pin down hot spots. Drone aircraft could also provide cell-phone coverage in mountainous or remote locations where cell phones don’t work, Zinke said.

Montana has a unique opportunity to leverage its enormous airspace and become a hub of research, testing and development in an emerging industry, Zinke said.

“We’re at the forefront of change in aviation technology with enormous potential to create the kinds of jobs we need in Montana,” he said.

Flying drones outside of military-restricted airspace is a challenge and is tightly controlled by the FAA.

“We want to be part of the discussion on how to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System without impacting general aviation,” Zinke said. “Montana contains the largest military operations airspace in the Lower 48 and is unique in having such diversity in climate, terrain and vegetation. Montana’s airspace is the perfect environment to research how to safely integrate UAS with commercial and private air traffic.”

Two sites near Lewistown could be used to base the project, Zinke said. The first test flight could occur near Lewistown by late summer next year. Initial testing could involve crop analysis or tracking cattle.

Montana State University-Northern has a satellite campus next to the Lewistown city airport, and the Western Transportation Institute has a facility and test track nearby. The city airport sees little activity now, Zinke noted, adding that it was used to base B-17 bombers during World War II.

The collaboration with Mississippi State University combines the assets of world-class programs in maritime and Gulf Coast research with MSU-Northern’s biofuel program, Rocky Mountain College’s accredited aviation program, and MSU-Bozeman’s acclaimed Engineering Department. Together, the members of the project represent more than $400 million in research capability.

“This project combines the unique talents and capabilities of different academic and research institutions to form an unequaled UAS Center of Excellence partnership,” said MSU-Northern’s Dean of Technology, Greg Kegel, whose college will be in charge of administration and testing.

The goal of the project over the next few months will be to add industry and other institutions to the partnership and launch the first drone aircraft in summer 2011. Great Falls, Havre, Lewistown and Glasgow also are being considered as launching locations for the drones.

“I think we all are excited about the future of UAS in Montana and look forward to putting our resources and talents to work,” Zinke said.