The continuing rise and rise of military unmanned aerial vehicles has been one of the main themes of Farnboroughs past. Now, for the first time, the UAV industry is suggesting that its technologies are also right for a variety of civil applications demanding long endurance or indifference to hazardous environments. Brendan Gallagher previews Hall 1's UAV Pavilion
While outside observers tend to be preoccupied by the widening military application of UAVs, "within the industry we are also beginning to see the emergence of a whole range of potential uses in the civil sphere", says AUVSI executive director Daryl Davidson.
The Arlington, Virginia-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is the world's largest non-profit organisation devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems community. Here at Farnborough it has organised a major presence for North American suppliers of UAVs and supporting technologies.
Among the companies represented in AUVSI's UAV Pavilion (Hall 1, Stand C7) are Canada's CDL Systems and MicroPilot, and ARINC, Athena Technologies, DTC Communications, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, and Texas Memory Systems of the USA.
"One of the things we want to do in the pavilion is make the case for a wide variety of possible civil applications," says Davidson. "Unmanned aircraft are particularly appropriate for tasks requiring long endurance, fatiguing for human crew, or which would expose civilian pilots to unacceptable levels of risk."
Davidson believes that once regulatory provision has been made for the operation of UAVs in airspace shared with manned aircraft, they could carry out several types of long-endurance mission: environmental surveys for agencies such as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, border patrols, fisheries and wildlife management, disaster assistance and monitoring, inspection of oil and natural gas pipelines and electricity lines and pylons, surface traffic control, and agricultural surveys.
"The ability of UAVs to persist for many hours or even days also makes it possible to consider them as airborne relays for certain telecommunications applications," says Davidson.
Higher-risk missions could include the detection of chemical and biological agents, hazardous materials surveying and monitoring, flight-testing of avionics equipment, and offshore platform resupply.
"Hollywood could benefit too," declares Davidson. "There's a limit to how spectacular stunt flying can be with a human pilot aboard. And having a UAV flying on the heels of a helter-skelter vehicle chase could yield some wonderful shots."
MicroPilot, represented here by company president Howard Loewen and sales director Dave Wakeman, already has a foot in the civil world. Specialising in the manufacture of miniature autopilots for UAVs and micro aerial vehicles (MAVs), the company includes academic and private research institutions among its customers.
MicroPilot's newest and most compact product is the MP2028g miniature autopilot. Weighing only 28gm and measuring 10cm long by 4cm wide by 1.5cm high, MP2028g includes all the necessary sensors and a GPS receiver. It combines all the capabilities of the earlier and larger MP2000 with a number of technical and operational advances.
Capabilities include airspeed and altitude hold, turn co-ordination, GPS navigation, plus autonomous operation from launch to recovery. Extensive data logging and manual overrides are supported, and all feedback-loop gains and flight parameters are user-programmable and adjustable in flight.
MP2028g works with MicroPilot's Horizon Windows-based ground-control software, which offers a point-and-click interface for mission planning, parameter adjustment, flight monitoring and mission simulation. Horizon allows the operator to track the MP2028g and monitor its sensors in flight, change waypoints, upload new flightplans, initiate holding patterns and adjust feedback-loop gains.
MicroPilot also offers the Xtender software tool, which gives systems integrators the ability to fully customise MP2028g and Horizon to match individual requirements. With Xtender, it is possible to implement alternative control laws, collect and display data from custom sensors, and control specialised payloads such as pan and tilt cameras.
Despite the community's growing civil ambitions, a strong military focus remains evident at the UAV pavilion.
Virginia-based Athena Technologies designs and manufactures flight dynamics and control systems for the military and general-aviation markets. It is here to promote its GuideStar family of compact integrated flight control and navigation systems and to launch the new SensorPac GPS/air data attitude heading reference system/autopilot.
Athena's military credentials include the Shadow tactical UAV, Loiter Attack Missile, Air Force Subscale Aerial Target, Organic Air Vehicle and the USAF/DARPA UCAV Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) programme. For the Organic Air Vehicle, the company developed the world's first autonomous control system for a ducted-fan UAV airframe. In UCAV ATD, Athena demonstrated in-flight control of the world's first unstable tailless-delta UAV.
The company also contributed autonomous fault-tolerant flight control and auto-navigation and engine controls for the Perseus B high-altitude UAV.
All GuideStar products incorporate an integrated micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS) -based sensor suite with inertial management unit, differential-ready/WAAS-enabled GPS receiver, full air-data suite and three-axis magnetometer. They also incorporate one or more PowerPC micro-controllers and serial, digital and analogue input/output.
ARINC Engineering Services is at the UAV Pavilion to present its recent developments in satellite navigation for both commercial and military unmanned vehicle operations. It's showing video of recent GPS-guided Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) automated landings and flight tests carried out in adverse electromagnetic conditions.
As well as being used for precision approaches to US Navy amphibious ships, JPALS can provide 3D co-ordinates in support of UCAV operations.
"Our solutions are proven in the world's most demanding unmanned environment - the automated landing of aircraft on the moving deck of an aircraft carrier," says Jim Flanders, senior director for aviation systems engineering. "The benefits of this capability for commercial aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles for global exploration, search and rescue and reconnaissance are just beginning to be tapped."
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems is responsible for the Global Hawk high-altitude, ultra-long-range UAV's integrated sensor suite. Designed to provide unprecedented reconnaissance imagery of large geographic areas in near-real time, the suite includes a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and electro-optical (EO) and infra-red (IR) sensors.
Raytheon also supplies the mission-control and launch/recovery elements of the Global Hawk ground segment.
The Global Hawk suite will be able to operate for more than 40h from altitudes above 21,000m (69,000ft), day and night, in any weather. The SAR can operate simultaneously with either the EO or the IR sensor to provide commanders with situational awareness, targeting and bomb damage assessment.
SAR imagery, which is processed on board Global Hawk, and EO/IR imagery are transmitted via datalink over satellite or line-of-light communications to mission control, where they are received, buffered and automatically assembled into final image products. Images are distributed automatically to users specified in the original tasking.
But sensors can also be dynamically retasked to respond rapidly to changing conditions on the battlefield environment.
CDL Systems of Canada specialises in vehicle control station (VCS) software for both unmanned vehicles and remote surveillance equipment. Military applications include the US Army's Shadow tactical UAV.
DTC Communications supplies microwave video transmitters, receivers and antennas for the UAV, unmanned ground vehicle and robotics markets.
Texas Memory Systems (TMS) specialises in high-bandwidth, low-latency data storage systems.
Source: Flight Daily News