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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

02 Apr 12. AeroVironment, Inc. unveiled a new miniature gimbaled sensor payload on the battle-proven RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aircraft system at the Army Aviation Association of America Annual Professional Forum and Exposition. The modular payload includes a high-resolution color, and an infrared thermal video sensor, as well as a laser illuminator integrated into a multi-axis sphere capable of continuous pan, supplied by FLIR Systems Inc.. The new payload will become a standard component of future Raven systems and will be sold as an upgrade for previously fielded units. Upgrading existing digital Raven systems to accommodate the new payload requires only a software update to each air vehicle and ground control station. The new payload is one of four products offered in AeroVironment’s “Mantis” suite of gimbaled sensor payloads now available for commercial applications including unmanned aircraft systems, manned aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft. A gimbaled sensor payload enhances the Raven system’s capabilities by allowing a higher level of visual fidelity and continuous observation of an item of interest regardless of the air vehicle’s flight direction. The new payload also replaces two separate Raven system payloads previously required for day and night operation, one containing a stationary electro-optical sensor, the other a stationary infrared sensor. Flight algorithms allow the air vehicle to manage its own flight path based on what the user wants to see, rather than requiring the user to control both the air vehicle and the sensor separately. Integrating the new gimbaled sensor payload marks the fourth upgrade to the Raven system since its introduction in 2003 and follows the successful introduction of AeroVironment’s digital data link (DDL) to replace the Raven system’s original analog communication modules.

05 Apr 12. Insitu Inc.’s ScanEagle UAS successfully completed its first hydrogen-powered fuel cell flight during a two-and-a-half-hour flight test. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell solution was implemented as a modular upgrade to the runway-independent, expeditionary Group 2 ScanEagle UAS. The collaboration between Insitu, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and United Technologies (UTC) took UTC’s 1500 Watt (2 HP) fuel cell and integrated it with NRL’s hydrogen fueling solution into a ScanEagle propulsion module. Then, in just three days, that propulsion module was fully integrated into the ScanEagle UAS at Insitu’s facilities in Bingen, Wash. The approach used in the hydrogen-powered fuel cell solution costs a fraction of the cost of today’s gas and heavy fuel solutions in UAS. The solution also weighs less than traditional engines. Reducing aircraft weight increases payload capacity, so propulsion approaches like this will enable ScanEagle to carry more payload while reducing costs. The Department of Defense recently laid out its vision for the role that fuel cells will play in improving mission capability. The fuel-cell powered flight of ScanEagle, demonstrates Insitu’s continuing commitment to respond to the needs of its customers by introducing new technology into a modular system designed for expansion and growth. Looking forward, Insitu is collaborating with the Air Force Research Lab to flight test a fuel cell on the Integrator UAS later this year.

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