French national civil aviation school ENAC plans to demonstrate autonomous formation flight with two micro air vehicles in November. Two 1.4m (4.6ft)-wingspan, electrically powered Twin Star model aircraft are being fitted with GPS receivers and radio transmitters for the tests, in which they will fly about 10m apart, one following the other.
The autonomous aircraft will exchange relative position data using the radio link. “Our next task is to try it with a helicopter,” says Pascal Brisset, project team leader at Toulouse-based ENAC.
The first hardware tests did not go well due to electromagnetic interference between the GPS receiver and radio transmitter, Brisset says, so new equipment was purchased.
The autonomous software that enables the wingman-like formation flight is called Paparazzi. Its ENAC developers claim it can be used with any type of aircraft. It was developed from an open-source software package called Autopilot that was designed for model helicopters.