14 Aug 14. The U.S. Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk, a wide area surveillance unmanned aircraft system, has just completed its 100th operational mission in Southwest Asia and recently moved into the Pacific region. Built by Northrop Grumman Corp., Global Hawk is operated largely out of the 69th Reconnaissance Group at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The 69th Reconnaissance Group falls under the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, central station for the entire Global Hawk fleet based at Beale Air Force Base, California. Global Hawk is equipped with the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program sensor capable of detecting fixed and moving targets. It has been flying early operational capability (EOC) missions since September 2013, providing the high priority wide area surveillance ground moving target indicator (GMTI) capability in the U.S. Central and Africa Command regions. Full system capability will be demonstrated when the system enters initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) in the spring of next year. Global Hawk GMTI EOC operations have proven the viability of the system, which expanded into the Pacific with two Global Hawk aircraft deployed to Guam to support U.S. Pacific Command peacetime surveillance requirements in the region. Global Hawk has flown more than 115,000 flight hours supporting diverse global missions. Carrying a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor payloads, Global Hawk supports antiterrorism, antipiracy, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, airborne communications and information-sharing missions.
12 Aug 14. Multiple UAS Perform Autonomous Formation Flight. In one of the first autonomous demonstrations, the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has successfully commanded three fully autonomous, collaborating UAVs. The machines flew in close formation at the same altitude, separated by approximately 50 meters as they executed figure-eight patterns. The research is part of GTRI’s efforts to improve the capabilities for autonomous systems collaborating as teams, thereby reducing the load on human operators.
“For autonomous systems to scale effectively, future systems will need the ability to perform with a higher level of autonomy,” said GTRI Chief Scientist Lora Weiss, who leads GTRI’s UAV research. “Human operators must be able to provide high-level task descriptions, allowing the systems to figure out for themselves how to dynamically form teams and autonomously collaborate to complete tasks.”
GTRI operated the three UAVs over the skies of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. A single plane was initially designated as the leader and commanded to fly autonomous orbits. The two “follower” UAVs joined the orbits, flying with rotational offsets of 15 and 30 degrees, respectively, from the leader.
“There are logistical challenges with quickly getting multiple planes in the air,” said Charles Pippin, a GTRI senior research scientist who led development of the autonomy algorithms. The lead UAV shared its current position with the follower UAVs several times per second, allowing the followers to calculate the control changes necessary to reach the desired position. The followers also used the leader’s information to send commands to their on-board autopilots, which adjusted the controls and throttle for each aircraft. GTRI’s autonomous algorithms and applications are general enough that they can be used with different UAVs and autopilot systems. The aircraft in the Fort Benning demonstration were quarter-scale Piper Cub airframes with a wingspan of approximately eight feet. They are able to carry a mission computer, autopilot system, and sensor payloads. Autonomous systems working in teams have numerous future applications designed to improve lives and reduce costs. For example, multiple UAVs could provide several different camera angles while searching for a missing person. While surveying hurricanes, one plane could carry a sensor to check wind speed in one