Honeywell proposes UAVs as anti-missile escorts for airliners

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Honeywell is proposing to thwart shoulder-fired missile attacks on civilian aircraft on takeoff by using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as decoys and chaff and flare dispensers.

The concept is revealed in a patent application re-filed by Honeywell's law department on 14 August.

The patent proposal dismisses approaches based on installing directed infrared countermeasure systems or chaff and flare dispensers on the 10,000 airliners in service globally as too costly and impractical.

Instead, Honeywell proposes to protect the airliners by having them fly in formation with a UAV.

"This formation drone aircraft, which carries various missile detection and diversion equipment, is controlled by a wireless data link that is coupled directly into the airliner's flight control system," the application states.

"When the formation drone determines that a missile is being viewed by a missile sensor head, the formation drone lays down a predetermined pattern of exploding flares to divert the missile away from the airliner, attempts to spoof the missile using laser countermeasures or sacrifices itself to protect the airliner."

If there is no attack, the UAV escorts the airliner up to an altitude of 18,000ft. At that point, control of the UAV transfers from the airliner's flight control system to the airport's air traffic control system, according to the application.

Notional drawings of the system submitted by Honeywell show a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk as the UAV, but it is not named in the application. Honeywell says an alternate version of the same approach could use multiple UAVs as escorts for a single airliner.