UAV mothership deploys micro air vehicles

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The deployment of micro air vehicles (MAV) from an unmanned air vehicle mothership has been demonstrated by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The mothership, a concept to enable a longer range for UAV operations, would deliver the MAVs that would investigate an area of interest. The university's work is for atmospheric science as well as potential military applications. The mothership could be used to deploy MAVs to conduct science within storms.

The first deployment was on 18 March. The mothership, a Sig Rascal 110 remote controlled aircraft, carries four MAVs under its wing, with two on each side. The MAV design, called Superfly, is a flying wing with a vertical stabiliser.

 © University of Colorado at Boulder
Flight test and micro air vehicle drop of the University of Colorado, Boulder Miniature Aircraft Deployment System (MADS)

"We have been working with the storm scientists for about five years. A more sturdy mothership will be needed for the atmospheric [storm] science," says Eric Frew, project leader and assistant professor of aerospace engineering science at the university.

He expects that some of the team's students to continue the MAV deployment work for graduate studies.

One development is for the MAVs to have folded wings. This enables them to be fixed to the mothership wing like pods. They use an IEEE 802.15.4 wireless network between the MAVs, the mothership and ground control station. The Superfly's are to have autopilots in future.

The UAV/MAV deployment project began in August and September 2008. In the same year the university established its Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles. This undertakes work for the US Air Force and corporate clients.