Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
19 Nov 20. Lockheed Martin RQ-3 DarkStar – US Air Force’s First Stealth Drone. The RQ-3 DarkStar made its first flight on March 29, 1996, but a year later the first prototype crashed during its second flight. The Department of Defense terminated DarkStar in January 1999, after determining the UAV was not aerodynamically stable and was not meeting cost and performance objectives.
Developed under the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) program, the RQ-3 was designed to operate in high-threat environments, the aircraft incorporated stealth aircraft technology that could allow it operate within highly defended airspace.
A second prototype was constructed and took part in a total of five flights beginning in mid-1998 before the program was cancelled a year later just prior to an airworthiness test flight.
The RQ-3 DarkStar was designed as a “high-altitude endurance UAV”, and incorporated stealth aircraft technology to make it difficult to detect, which allowed it to operate within heavily defended airspace, unlike the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is unable to operate except under conditions of air supremacy.
The DarkStar was fully autonomous: it could take off, fly to its target, operate its sensors, transmit information, return and land without human intervention. Human operators, however, could change the DarkStar’s flight plan and sensor orientation through radio or satellite relay. The RQ-3 carried either an optical sensor or radar, and could send digital information to a satellite while still in flight. It used a single air-breathing jet engine of unknown type for propulsion. One source claims it used a Williams-Rolls-Royce FJ44-1A turbofan engine. The first prototype made its first flight on March 29, 1996, but its second flight, on April 22, 1996, ended in a crash shortly after takeoff. A modified, more stable design (the RQ-3A) first flew on June 29, 1998, and made a total of five flights before the program was canceled just prior to the sixth and final flight planned for the airworthiness test phase. Two additional RQ-3As were built, but never made any flights before program cancellation.
Although the RQ-3 was terminated on January 28, 1999, a July 2003 Aviation Week and Space Technology article reported that April 2003 that a derivative of the RQ-3 had been used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There has been no independent confirmation.
The “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance; “Q” means unmanned aircraft system. The “3” refers to it being the third of a series of purpose-built unmanned reconnaissance aircraft systems. A total of four were built, including the first prototype that crashed. The program was ended because of the cost but also due to aerodynamic stability problems. All three of the surviving prototypes are now housed in various aviation museums:
- The second RQ-3A (A/V #2) is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. Although part of the Museum’s Research & Development Gallery, it is displayed hanging over the C-130E in Building 4’s Global Reach Gallery.
- The third RQ-3A (A/V #3) is on display in the Great Gallery of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
- The fourth RQ-3A (which never flew before the program ended) is held by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., but is not on display.
Length: 15 ft 0 in (4.6 m)
Wingspan: 69 ft 0 in (21.3 m)
Height: 3 ft 6 in (1.1 m)
Empty weight: 4,360 lb (1,980 kg)
Gross weight: 8,500 lb (3,860 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Williams-Rolls-Royce FJ44-1A turbofan, 1,900 lbf (8.5 kN) thrust
Cruise speed: 288 mph (464 km/h, 250 kn)
Range: 575 mi (925 km, 500 nmi)
Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,500 m)
(Source: UAS VISION/Wikipedia)
18 Nov 20. Terega and Thales Explore Pioneering Solutions to Ensure Safe Use of Long-range UAVs. Under an agreement signed today by Teréga, a gas operator and accelerator of the energy transition, and Thales, a global technology leader, Thales will deploy a solution based on long-range UAVs to monitor Teréga’s gas pipeline network. The alliance will make it possible to use drones safely to monitor infrastructure beyond visual line of sight, reducing the environmental impacts and operating costs of pipeline surveillance while delivering an enhanced level of service.
The memorandum of understanding between Teréga and Thales covers technical solutions to ensure compliance with French and European regulations on unmanned flights. The Thales solutions will enable 50% of Teréga’s over 5,000-kilometre gas pipeline network to be monitored by UAVs, ultimately limiting reliance on the manned aircraft and helicopters in use today, reducing environmental impacts and operating costs, and increasing monitoring frequency. Initial tests over unpopulated areas began on mid-November 2020.
To ensure regulatory compliance, Thales is developing a package of technologies that combines robotics, safety and security systems and certified avionics to guarantee the highest levels of safety for UAV operations:
- trackers to identify, track and control UAVs safely and securely
- geocaging solutions developed with the support of the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) to guarantee that UAVs cannot fly outside their authorised airspace
- anti-jamming solutions to protect the UAV’s onboard GPS sensors.
These technologies enable Thales to identify UAVs, secure their flight patterns within a predetermined airspace and maintain their airworthiness.
“As a committed and responsible gas operator in France, Teréga has always considered the safety, security and integrity of our infrastructure an absolute priority. Using UAVs to monitor our networks in real time is a future-oriented solution that will give us a clearer picture of our infrastructure for enhanced reliability. Teréga is proud to have the opportunity to draw on Thales’s expertise for this project.” Patrick Hamou, Director of Operations for Teréga
“This collaboration with Teréga is a practical illustration of the huge potential of long-range UAVs when operational safety can be guaranteed. It is a major step forward in the development of the UAV industry, and we’re especially proud to be conducting this pioneering project in southwest France, where both our companies have strong roots.” Marc Duval-Destin, Vice-President Strategy, Product Policy and Innovation for Thales’s Flight Avionics business. (Source: ASD Network)
18 Nov 20. Thales to Enable Advanced Drone Operations in North Dakota.
- Thales is working jointly with the State of North Dakota to enable Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) UAS operations.
- Thales is integrating surveillance, communications and cloud-hosted traffic management services for a first of its kind safety-oriented, system-of-systems solution.
- Key site implementation will validate infrastructure requirements and procedural needs to ensure routine, safe & secure UAS airspace integration.
Thales has successfully completed the preliminary design review for the key site implementation of Vantis, the statewide unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) network, for BVLOS operations in western North Dakota. Thales will deploy surveillance and communications infrastructure in the greater McKenzie County area as part of the beyond visual line of sight network. The sensors and communications network will support mission and network operations.
The civil drone market is best represented by its huge commercial potential and the millions of new drones that are projected to enter our skies over the next 20 years – moving from a world with tens of thousands of flying objects to one with millions. The resulting complexity in the aviation ecosystem presents significant new challenges to security and safety. This will lead to more stringent registration and identification for UAS being required by civil authorities. Regulatory frameworks will influence how operators plan missions, receive flight approvals and identify and track drones securely.
Thales will integrate new and existing infrastructure into a cloud-based traffic management software as a service (SaaS) platform supporting users at the Vantis mission and network operations cetner located at the Grand Sky facility near Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Thales TopSky UAS Traffic Management (UTM) platform is a first of its kind, cloud platform blending field-proven air traffic control technologies with national, regional and local data to facilitate real-time situational awareness. Its robust capabilities also support proactive health and status monitoring to deliver the security, resilience, availability, affordability and flexibility required for tomorrow’s advanced aviation applications. This system will benefit users of both public and commercial use cases with the later representing those merchants who want drones to be able to conduct delivery, inspection, and other services.
The company’s global experience as a large-scale systems integrator and its open aviation platform enable Thales to work with leading North Dakota companies and strategic partners, including Airspace Link, Appareo, Botlink, Terma, uAvionix and Verizon Skyward, to deliver the statewide network.
Thales is actively engaged in the operational and technical challenges of UAS integration into the global airspace system. Thales is shaping the UAS industry’s future by leading projects with local, regional and national authorities such as the State of New York, the United States Air Force, FAA (USA), CAAS (Singapore) and DSNA (France) to address the unique challenges presented by new airspace users.
“North Dakota’s Statewide UAS Network, known as Vantis, is truly the first of its kind. This robust network, that safely and securely integrates UAS into the national airspace, will serve as an enviable model and the catalyst for broader commercial UAS operations for years to come as it relies on a complete solution addressing the FAA’s safety risk management process.” Jean Ferré, Vice President of Airspace Mobility Solutions, Thales. (Source: ASD Network)
17 Nov 20. Martin UAV developing new V-Bat unmanned aircraft. Martin UAV is developing a new version of its V-Bat mini vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that will feature increased endurance and payload capacity, according to a company official.
Heath Niemi, Martin UAV vice president of global sales and development, told Janes on 12 November that the company has a prototype of the new V-Bat that has flown, but he declined to provide further specifics. Martin UAV has provided the V-Bat to the US Army for its Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) demonstration. The V-Bat also recently demonstrated shipboard integration in support of a US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) counter narcotics mission off the coasts of Central America and northern South America from October 2019-July 2020.
Niemi said this SOUTHCOM mission, in which the V-Bat flew 273 sorties over 1,341 flight hours, was the first operational deployment of the V-Bat and demonstrated a unique maritime niche for the aircraft. The V-Bat can autonomously turn into winds, which Niemi said is critical for shipborne operations as winds shift constantly.
The V-Bat features an innovative design with a ducted-fanbased pusher propulsion system attached at the end of the fuselage. The single rotor propulsion system helps the aircraft to transition from vertical to horizontal fixed-wing flight during any mission.
Martin UAV lists the V-Bat as suitable for a range of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) applications including shipboard surveillance, anti-piracy patrols, and aerial mapping, among others, according to Janes All the World’s Aircraft: Unmanned . (Source: Jane’s)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.