L-3/Thales joint venture Aviation Communication & Surveillance Systems (ACSS) is hoping to begin full-scale development of the Military Airborne Surveillance System (MASS). This follows the successful conclusion of a series of trial flights demonstrating to the US Air Force its capabilities for inflight rendezvous, formation flying and station keeping.

MASS was recently demonstrated in conjunction with the US Federal Aviation Administration's surveillance systems evaluation at Memphis International Airport in Tennessee. Taking part in the exercise were a USAF Boeing 707 and ACSS's Cessna Citation V, both equipped with MASS, in addition to an air force Bombardier C-21 Learjet fitted with a traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS).

"TCAS is designed to keep aircraft apart and we're using the technology to keep aircraft together such as for in-flight refuelling and formation flying," says Rich Baldwin, ACSS vice-president military sales.

The six trial flights included the two MASS aircraft flying in line abreast, manoeuvring while maintaining formation, and with the C-21 acting as an intruder.

MASS uses TCAS's Mode S transponder, antenna and cockpit display, modified to incorporate the military Mode 2 IFF code, to provide formatting pilots with range, relative altitude and pitch cues. MASS can be used passively by different aircraft to maintain station with a lead active transponder platform. This avoids restrictions in Europe and the USA on the number of TCAS-equipped aircraft flying in formation and the problem of radio frequency clutter.

The system can be retrofitted to existing TCAS-equipped aircraft in the form of a software upgrade and will be compatible with rival systems, such as Honeywell's Advanced TCAS.

ACSS is targeting MASS at the USAF's fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130 and Boeing C-17 transports, which are being equipped with TCAS, as well as future 767 tankers. Baldwin also sees potential for the system as unmanned air vehicles proliferate.

Source: Flight International