Posts Tagged ‘UAV’

UAVs Help Fight Pirates

February 3, 2009

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The guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) brings an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability to Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, which enhances the counterpiracy task force’s effectiveness.

This UAV supports the CTF 151 counterpiracy mission by providing maritime surveillance and cueing on suspicious activity.

“This is a significant step forward and is reflective of the increased use of UAVs across the spectrum of military operations,” said Cmdr. Steve Murphy, Mahan’s commanding officer.

The unique attributes of a UAV – namely the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission, all the while sending imagery in real time back to Mahan and other assets in the task force – provide a significant tactical advantage.

“It can fly day or night in a covert or overt posture, making it much harder for pirates to hide” said Murphy.
“It is also important to note that the images and information obtained [by the UAV] at sea is shared with our coalition partners, thereby improving overall mission effectiveness and strengthening key partnerships between navies.”

As part of Combined Task Force 151 Mahan is coordinating and deconflicting counterpiracy efforts with approximately 14 nations also operating in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

Taken in context with other aircraft and ships operating in the area, the UAV is considered by Murphy and other leaders in the task force as a force multiplier. The information the UAV generates also helps CTF 151’s leadership determine where to position all available units.

“It provides high quality imagery in real time, speeding decision making and is a significant advantage in stopping piracy on the high seas,” said Murphy. “It is versatile and very responsive, able to change operating areas and change missions in mid-flight.”

Mahan has integrated the UAV into every mission it has conducted while on deployment, gathering valuable information on maritime traffic patterns and the patterns of those suspected to be involved in illicit activity.

According to Murphy, it also helps protect the ship and crew, providing extended surveillance and early indications of potential threats.

“[The UAV] has great significance as a developing effort to apply 21st century technology to the 21st century challenges that our Navy faces.”

The civilian and Sailor team operating the unmanned aerial vehicle on Mahan is documenting lessons learned during this mission and throughout the ship’s deployment. This information is expected to contribute to the U.S. Navy’s plans for the future of UAVs at sea.

(NNS)

Boeing A160T Unmanned Rotorcraft Reaches Two Key Milestones

December 23, 2008
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Boeing announced last week that its A160 Turbine (A160T) Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft has achieved two key milestones: using its two-speed transmission to change gears in flight, and passing the 100-flight-hour threshold.

“Being able to shift gears in flight is the final significant step in realizing the full potential of our optimum speed rotor technology, which enables game-changing capability for the warfighter,” said John Groenenboom, A160T program manager for Boeing. “It allows us to significantly expand the flight envelope at higher gross weights and at higher speeds, while maintaining the A160T’s world-record-setting endurance. We now have an unmanned air system with the performance of a fixed wing and the precision and versatility of a rotorcraft.”

Breaking the 100-flight-hour mark shows how much the A160T has matured since its first flight in June 2007. That first 12-minute flight set the stage for multiple endurance flights, including an 18.7-hour world record, flights carrying multiple payloads of up to 1,000 pounds, a hover-out-of-ground-effect flight at 20,000 feet, and flights with the FORESTER foliage-penetrating radar antenna. The A160T’s predecessor, the gasoline-powered A160, made its first flight in 2002 and accumulated 63 flight hours.

The gear-change flight took place on Nov. 25 and the 100-flight-hour mark was surpassed on Nov. 20. Boeing conducted each flight at the A160T test facility in Victorville, Calif. The company performed the tests under a $5 million bridge contract with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The A160T Hummingbird is 35 feet long with a 36-foot-diameter rotor and has reached speeds of up to 142 knots to date.

UAS students graduate from inaugural class

December 23, 2008
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A first-of-its-kind combat familiarization program for pilots slated to fly unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, will graduate nine newly-winged lieutenants from Team Randolph’s 563rd Flying Training Squadron Monday. 

The four-week Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fundamentals Course, or UFC, began instruction Nov. 21 at Randolph AFB (TX). It’s designed to give the fledgling pilots a feel for the air- and ground-based battle space environment in 100 hours of combined simulator and academic classes. 

The UFC provided the pilots with a computer-based simulation using high-end gaming technology and exposing them to multiple Air Force strike aircraft on a cyber-based battlefield. 

“It simulates the real-world ground-combat and air-combat environment for the UFC students,” explained Lt. Col. Scott Cardozo, 563rd FTS director of operations. 

Capt. Tom Moore, 563rd FTS UFC flight commander, civilian contract instructors, and combat systems officer instructors from the 563rd FTS taught, observed, tested and critiqued the student pilots through simulated computer-based air strikes in a real-time, extremely high-fidelity, air combat picture. 

UFC instructors predict that eventually 100 UFC graduates per year will learn to fly UASs at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., and eventually work with the UAS enlisted sensor operators throughout the world. The nine pilots will head to the two-week Joint Firepower Course at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 26. Then, it’s on to the flying training unit at Creech AFB. 

After that, qualified UAS pilots will be assigned to manned aircraft and possibly move between manned and unmanned aircraft as their Air Force careers progress. 

They’re off to a fine start, said Captain Moore, an award-winning flight instructor and flight commander shepherding the young lieutenants through the course. 

“They have all done well,” he said. 

Colonel Cardozo also praised his young charges. 

“They have strong academic averages and have taken advantage of all the training we can give them,” the colonel commented. “They learned how to read and understand an Air Tasking Order. They also learned weapons employment, watched computer videos and read text message conversations on live Predator feeds from overseas.” 

Captain Moore said the students also learned how to employ sensors on attack aircraft.
One of the nine lieutenants spoke about his experience in the inaugural course. 

“I learned in this course how we fit into the bigger picture of coordinating the airspace of a battle,” 1st Lt. Brandon Ongra said. “We’ve never been operational in the combat Air Force and here we’ve learned the capabilities of different aircraft and their weapons.”

Sean Bowlin

Bat-Inspired Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs)

December 14, 2008

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Air Force-funded researchers from several universities are studying the flexible, flapping wings routinely used by bats and insects and mimicking their biological attributes to improve agility, speed and adaptability in MAV systems.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research manages two projects on biologically-inspired flight, both part of the 2007 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), which provides funding for topics that rely on expertise in multiple disciplines.

Dr. Kenny Breuer, a fluid mechanics professor from Brown University, and Dr. Wei Shyy, an aerospace engineering professor from the University of Michigan, each lead a MURI project. Though their respective teams focus on different biological and engineering aspects of this problem, they share the same overall goal of understanding bat flight and its potential applications to MAVs.

“Future MAVs will need to be agile, robust and maneuverable, and our research will provide some guidance as to how we might incorporate these features using inspiration from biology,” says Breuer.

If successfully transitioned, this research could lead to small remote controlled aircraft that have the ability to move in complex environments such as forests, interiors of buildings, caves or tunnels.

“Birds, bats and insects have some highly varied mechanical properties that we really have not incorporated in engineering,” explains Shyy. “They’re not only lighter, but they also have more adaptive structures. These natural flyers have outstanding capabilities to remain airborne through wind gusts, rain and snow.”

Facing many of the same challenges posed by this complex, biological system, Dr. Breuer is working on a variety of efforts to unlock the mystery. One such effort involves capturing video footage of bats flying in a wind tunnel and measuring the fluid velocities in their wakes. Another involves studying flight properties in different environments and among different species of bats.

The results of these experiments and others have allowed Dr. Breuer to construct engineering models that mimic specific features found in bat flight.

His MURI partners from Oregon State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland are also doing innovative research. They are developing computational methods for simulating complex, moving, flexible structures; mapping the neurophysiology of bat sensor and motor systems; and creating control systems that might be of use in MAV technologies.

Dr. Shyy’s team, comprised of faculty and students from the University of Michigan as well as colleagues from the Universities of Florida and Maryland, is focusing on hovering and forward flight modes of MAVs.

“Birds, bats and insects can fly in turbulent environments with fast, unpredictable wind gusts; yet, they can react almost instantaneously and adapt with their flexible wings,” says Shyy.

Knowing this, his team has placed particular emphasis on learning how and why flexible wing structures affect lift and thrust generation, especially in unsteady environments.

“If handled appropriately, flexible wing structures can delay stall, enhance stability and increase thrust,” Shyy adds.

This research should be very beneficial to the Air Force as it addresses two of the eight Focused Long Term Challenges (FLTCs) identified by the Air Force Research Laboratory. These FLTCs form a forward-looking science and technology plan that is vital to the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Molly LaChance

F-16 Performs First Robot Landing

December 13, 2008


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Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., report successfully demonstrating an autonomous landing of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, marking the first time an F-16 has landed entirely under computer control.

The successful Autoland demonstration lays the foundation for consistent, repeatable and controlled automatic landings of the F-16 in various wind conditions and airfield situations. This Lockheed Martin-developed technology has broad applications for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

“The demonstration of an autonomous landing of an F-16 is evidence that Lockheed Martin is prepared to successfully implement autonomous control of Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)-type aircraft,” said Frank Cappuccio, Lockheed Martin’s executive vice president and general manager of Advanced Development Programs and Strategic Planning. “Such technology, in concert with the skill and experience of today’s warfighter, presents a formidable force against existing foes and provides a basis for further developing manned and unmanned vehicles that can meet the challenges facing the warfighters of tomorrow,” he said.

The Autoland sequence is initiated during flight by an on-board safety pilot. Once the pilot moves to “hands-off” the aircraft controls, the F-16 is controlled by an onboard computer and guided through several phases of the landing sequence, culminating in a final approach to the runway touchdown point. The computer uses Lockheed Martin-developed algorithms to control the F-16’s attitude, glide slope, airspeed, and descent rate via throttle and flight control inputs until the aircraft comes to a stop on the runway.

The USAF Test Pilot School provided full flight test resources for the demonstration, including the VISTA/F-16 (Variable Stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft), Calspan Corporation flight test safety pilots (under contract to the Test Pilot School), and testbed support and facilities. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and the USAF Test Pilot School performed all activities in full partnership, from initial planning through implementation and test execution.

Pentagon Eyes Cut in MQ-9 Reaper UCAV Purchase

November 30, 2008
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Senior Pentagon officials are eyeing cuts to an Air Force-proposed increase of MQ-9 Reaper purchases by 34 aircraft, one-third the total buy, in fiscal year 2010, a decision DOD believes will not impact the service’s plans to stand up 50 combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan by 2011, Inside the Air Force has learned.

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Coalition force Reaper unit deploys to Joint Base Balad

November 25, 2008

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A coalition force comprising experts from the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force deployed to Joint Base Balad (Iraq) recently to sustain operations for the world’s most lethal unmanned aircraft system.

An MQ-9 Reaper aircraft maintenance unit, attached to the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron, melds airframe maintenance expertise with satellite communications system technical capability and brings American and British Airmen together to accomplish the Reaper’s persistent strike mission, said Capt. Antonio Camacho, the Reaper AMU officer in charge.

“It’s a very unique program,” said Captain Camacho, whose unit is deployed from the 432nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. “Some people see our system as remote control, but it’s not.”

The Reaper AMU took over maintaining the UAS from General Atomics, which produces the Reaper for the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force. Battlespace Flight Services maintains MQ-1 Predators stationed at Joint Base Balad.

Reaper and Predator systems consist of four main components: the aircraft, the satellite uplink, the local ground control station and the remote ground control station at Creech AFB, said Royal Air Force Chief Technician Gary Smith, NCO in charge of the Reaper AMU.

“All that is one system, and all of the system has to work to enable the aircraft to take off,” said RAF Chief Technician Smith, a native of Lincoln, England, who is deployed from Creech. “Unlike an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) AMU, which will look after just the aircraft, we look after the whole system. We become system managers rather than aircraft managers: it’s a worldwide system, and all of those pieces have to work.”

The major differences between the Reaper and Predator systems lie in the airframe, said Captain Camacho, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Reaper flies faster and higher than the Predator and carries more than twice as much ordnance. However, the background systems that support the aircraft are the same. Staff Sgt. Kevin Wulf, a communications maintenance technician with the Reaper AMU, is responsible for those background systems.

“I work on everything outside of the aircraft: pilot and sensor operation, everything that controls the aircraft and all the equipment that commands it — both the line-of-sight antenna link and the satellite communications link,” said Sergeant Wulf, a native of Spokane, Wash.

UAS pilots and sensor operators use both commercial satellite systems and military satellites such as the Air Force’s Wideband Global SATCOM system to control Reapers and Predators, Sergeant Wulf said. Maintaining that link means overcoming environmental challenges.

“Being out in the desert, we get a lot of dust in the equipment, which can cause critical systems to fail,” he said.

Overall, however, the experience has proven helpful both for American Airmen and their British counterparts.

“Our engineers are embedded in the AMU,” said RAF Chief Technician Smith, who accepted a one-year extension of his tour at Creech so he could help the AMU deploy here. “There’s no difference — it’s not, ‘I’m Royal Air Force, he’s U.S. Air Force.’ We’re totally embedded in the unit. Because of that, we pass ideas to one another, and I think the unit’s far better for it.”

The sharing of ideas has improved maintenance operations in general, Captain Camacho said.

“It provides a different perspective,” he said. “It’s like going into a brand-new unit: you see everything differently.”

The blend of American and British Airmen has provided some unintended benefits as well, RAF Chief Technician Smith said.

“They watch our soccer, and we watch their American football,” he said. “And I’ve got them drinking tea. How many tea bags have we gone through since we’ve been here? Hundreds — we have to have a constant resupply of them. The cultural differences have melded together, and we’ve got a kind of unique culture within our unit because of the mixture.”

Don Branum 

Air Force training Navy pilots on UAS tech

November 13, 2008
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The U.S. Air Force is increasing efforts to address the call for more surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities through new training initiatives, reports UPI.

Among other things USAF and Navy are showing true joint spirit: Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV instructors are training Navy members to fly their own reconnaissance drones.

Read more at UPI

Pentagon: No Plans to Shift Air Force Predator Drones to Army

October 24, 2008
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Defense Department and service officials this week quashed speculation that the Pentagon is poised to task the Air Force’s Predator unmanned drones exclusively to the Army and let the air service outfit its entire unmanned aerial fleet with next-generation Reapers, sources tell Inside the Pentagon.

“There is currently no plan in DOD to allocate the MQ-1[Predator] solely to the Army and the MQ-9 [Raptor] solely to the Air Force,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh said. “This is merely one of many potential options that could be considered in a future [Quadrennial Defense Review] and does not reflect current thinking or intent.” . . .

Kevin Meiners, assistant deputy under secretary of defense in the Pentagon’s intelligence shop, stoked speculation on the subject last week when he said he would not be surprised if Predator operations were handed to the Army and Reaper operations were given to the Air Force in the upcoming QDR.

Read more at Inside Defense (subscription required)

3rd SOS changes leadership, transfers to Cannon

October 14, 2008
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Just one week after the 27th Special Operations Wing marked its first year at Cannon Air Force Base, the 3rd Special Operations Squadron commemorated its transfer from Nellis AFB, Nev., to Cannon AFB in a change-of-command ceremony Oct. 8. 

In front of a backdrop of parachuting Special Operations Forces currently training on the base, Lt. Col. Robert Brock, former 3rd SOS, Detachment 1 commander at Cannon, took command of the 3rd SOS from Lt. Col. Paul Caltagirone. Colonel Caltagirone will become the 27th Special Operations Group deputy commander. 

This event also signified the official transfer of the 3rd SOS from Nellis AFB to Cannon AFB. 

“The transfer of the 3rd SOS to Cannon brings yet another combat-steeped squadron to the high plains of eastern New Mexico,” said 27th SOW commander Col. Timothy Leahy. “We welcome a band of warriors…[who] have sought out, engaged, and destroyed the enemies of this nation…and because they are on duty, we can sleep at night.” 

Colonel Leahy added that although most of the 3rd SOS’s accomplishments are now highly classified, one day the dedication, skill, and accomplishments of its Airmen will be read about and honored in history books. 

Two 3rd SOS accomplishments while under the leadership of Colonel Caltagirone, however, were mentioned at the change-of-command ceremony. 

“The 3rd SOS flew 3,678 sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to more than 6,000 enemy combatants captured or killed,” said Col. James Cardoso, the 27th SOG commander. “And during that time, [Colonel Caltagirone] led the squadron through unprecedented growth, and oversaw the move from Nellis to Cannon with zero reduction in combat capability.” 

Representing one of the appreciative users of the 3rd SOS was Army Col. Charles Yomant, Deputy Commander of the Special Operations Command Air Component. Presenting a framed collage of different SOCOM assets to Colonel Caltagirone, Colonel Yomant said that the special operations operatives on the ground want the 3rd SOS supporting them. 

“We can’t do what we do without the [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capability provided by the 3rd SOS,” he said. 

Cannon leadership said that the quality support already provided by the 3rd SOS to fight the Global War on Terror will continue under the direction of Colonel Brock. 

“It is difficult to imagine the 3rd SOS attaining greater accomplishments than they already have,” said Colonel Cardoso of Colonel Brock. “However, under Bob’s command, there is no doubt they will.”

Colonel Cardoso added that Colonel Brock is uniquely qualified to assume command of the Predator squadron because of his background as a maintenance officer and later as a pilot who flew combat missions in the MH-53 Pave Low. This was followed by his great involvement in setting up the 3rd SOS at Cannon AFB. 

The full transition of personnel and Predator-flying capabilities from Nellis to Cannon will likely take several more months, culminating in a squadron population of more than 300 personnel in about six to eight months.

Mae-Li Allison