Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
27 Jan 21. Aerovel Flexrotor Speeds Through SOCOM Reliability Demonstration. Aerovel, makers of Flexrotor, an advanced Group 2 unmanned aerial system (UAS) with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), has announced strong reliability results for its latest Flexrotor variant. In demonstrations conducted for SOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) missions, Aerovel demonstrated over 150 cycles on the latest Flexrotor variant.
One Flexrotor aircraft has 102 cycles, most of them logged on only six flying days. Flexrotor is designed for the demanding reliability and specifications required by the US Department of Defense (DOD) while being affordable for commercial applications.
In the past, even while operating most days, Flexrotor took about 700 flight-hours over many months in Afghanistan to accumulate 100 cycles. This recent demonstration for SOCOM required accelerated cycling, a challenge Flexrotor was easily able to meet.
Aerovel demonstrated how Flexrotor used VTOL to launch, then transitioned to wing-borne flight, climbed to cruise altitude, cruised for a few minutes, and occasionally did a few “transition pairs” when needed for a particular test. Then Flexrotor descended, transitioned to thrust-borne flight, landed and shut down. It would then be launched again in as little as three minutes. Two people working together can do three of these Flexrotor flights in an hour, while at the same time minding a second Flexrotor flying in cruise all day in order to build more flight time.
“This winter we’ve been arriving at our flying site around 8:45 am. It’s completely bare so we have to bring everything, and two of us take about a half-hour to set up,” said Tad McGeer, Aerovel founder and Chief Technology Officer. “Then we launch a couple of aircraft, one to cycle and one to cruise, and keep going until sunset. Packing up takes about 20 minutes, and we are heading home at dusk.”
This accelerated cycling rate is testament not only to Flexrotor’s reliability but also its unique flexibility. It has by far the longest endurance of any VTOL aircraft, setting the record at more than 32 hours. It has operated from ship and shore, on three oceans, and from the high Arctic to the high deserts of central Asia. It has also demonstrated fully autonomous cycling from an unmanned skiff.
Flexrotor carries a range of payloads for imaging and data-gathering, with more capacity than any VTOL aircraft in the Group 2 UASs. No other aircraft offers its combination of small footprint, ease of use, economy and endurance. (Source: UAS VISION)
28 Jan 21. Swarming drones concept flies closer to reality. A swarm of 20 drones, composed of 5 different types, with different operational capabilities has recently completed the largest collaborative, military focused evaluation of swarming Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the UK. The exercise was the culmination of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)’s ‘Many Drones Make Light Work’ competition, funded under the MOD’s Science and Technology Portfolio through the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA). Following 2 earlier phases, the £2.5m contract for Phase 3 was awarded in January 2019. This was for an Integrated Concept Evaluation activity to explore the technical feasibility and military utility of a swarm of up to 20 small UAVs operating collaboratively. This was awarded to an industry team led by Blue Bear Systems Research including Plextek DTS, IQHQ, Airbus and Durham University.
The swarm consisted of 5 different types and sizes of fixed wing drones together with 6 different payload types, flying representative tasks at RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria. Three operators in Blue Bear’s Mobile Command & Control System (MCCS) managed the entire swarm whilst simultaneously handling different, collaborative payload analysis tasks.
The UAVs flew simultaneous Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) cooperative tasks, with Blue Bear collaborative autonomy ensuring they all contributed to overall mission goals. Throughout the 2 weeks of trials, more than 220 sorties were undertaken.
The Dstl Project Technical Authority, said, “Dstl has been driving research in autonomous systems across different platforms and domains for many years. This is a significant step forward in our understanding of the capabilities of swarming drones and has been achieved through excellent collaboration across the MOD and with a number of Small and Medium Enterprise partners. This 18 month collaboration has resulted in the demonstration of an operationally relevant capability and will inform and de-risk future choices and decisions about swarming drone capability.” (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
20 Jan 21. Blue Bear’s AIR DRUIDS medical delivery programme targets BVLOS operations. UK drone company Blue Bear Systems has launched its Autonomous Intelligent Robotic DRones for Unmanned Integrated Delivery System (AIR DRUIDS) medical delivery programme. The programme is enabled by funding through the government’s Future Flight initiative. This first phase project will culminate in Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) delivery demonstrations.
According to a Blue Bear press release, the Air Druids programme builds on the company’s existing proven swarming drone control system. Initially, the control technology will be tailored to medical logistics delivery of critical items such as blood samples, swabs, blood, plasma and other key medical items. This could be between hospitals, GP surgeries, remote field stations, or emergency delivery to an accident location, and the swarming control system will be able to run a medical logistics flight control hub, tasking, scheduling and monitoring large numbers of drones in real time.
The seamless integration of the medical payload into the existing modular open architecture provides real time payload monitoring ensuring viability and integrity of the payload contents. The open architecture will enable other companies to produce task tailored payloads which can be easily integrated into Blue Bears overall system.
The flexible system design also allows drones from any manufacturer to be utilised, as Air Druids is platform-agnostic, the same system can also be tailored to power drone-based logistics networks.
Ian Williams-Wynn, MD said: “We have been working on our world leading swarming drone control and logistics system for several years, and it is now flight proven with up to 20 different drones. This exciting next step will see us adapting the core system and producing medical specific payloads and software applications to demonstrate the capability for critical medical logistics delivery.”
For more information visit: www.bbsr.co.uk (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
25 Jan 21. Sellafield Ltd plays key role in drone development challenge. Consortium wins share of government challenge fund. Sellafield Ltd has a key role in a consortium of industrial, aerospace and aviation giants that has won a share of a £30m government challenge fund to develop and test a remotely operated drone system. The futuristic system will enable remote inspection and monitoring of nuclear sites and has a range of other applications including on construction sites, oil and gas installations, road, rail and telecoms infrastructure and in providing live support to emergency services.
Led by the specialist drone command and control solution developer, Sees.ai, the consortium includes BAE Systems, Atkins, Skanska, NATS, Vodafone and a host of other organisations with unique specialisms and perspectives.
Mark Foster, Head of Specialist Equipment Services, Sellafield Ltd, said, “The specialist equipment services team provides engineering and maintenance support to the whole of Sellafield and we continually seek out areas of innovation to improve services on our complex and congested site. This new technology has huge potential for our future operations; making our work safer, faster and more cost effective. We’re proud to be at the forefront of a national challenge and our experienced team, together with our local supply chain partners, is demonstrating every day how we can truly make a difference for our mission and beyond.”
The funding comes from the Future Flight Challenge, Phase 2 competition, part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish.
As a publicly funded organisation itself. Sellafield Ltd will not receive any of the challenge fund but the Sellafield site offers a unique testbed for the use of this technology on nuclear licensed sites and already has its own team of highly skilled and experienced drone pilots.
The drone system, which uses similar technology to autonomous cars, enables autonomous drones to be flown under tight human supervision by pilots based in a central control room hundreds of miles away.
The challenge put the drone system through a series of increasingly complex tests to see how it would respond in a range of circumstances, demonstrating significant potential for inspections and maintenance of congested and hazardous areas.
Peter Allport, Remote Handling Lead for Specialist Equipment Services, Sellafield Ltd Engineering and Maintenance said:
This technology has the potential to revolutionise how we use drones at Sellafield, increasing the operational envelope and transforming the way in which drones are piloted.
It also closes the loop between our engineering and maintenance and robotics and artificial intelligence programme; ensuring we are always using the best available technology so we can continuously improve our service to the Sellafield site and the rest of the NDA Group. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
25 Jan 21. RAF’s new unmanned fighter aircraft dubbed the ‘loyal wingman’ gets £30m injection from MoD. An unmanned fighter aircraft dubbed the “loyal wingman” is to be produced following a £30m injection from the MoD.
The contract to design and manufacture the RAF’s new prototype uncrewed fighter aircraft will support more than 100 jobs at Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast in a three-year deal.
Utilising ground-breaking engineering techniques, the team will further develop the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept, with a full-scale vehicle flight-test programme expected by the end of 2023.
The ‘loyal wingman’ concept envisages highly sophisticated drones that will fly in formation with a manned aircraft such as Typhoon or F-35.
The crewed aircraft will be able to assign tasks such as electronic warfare, surveillance or bombing missions to the LANCA drones, thereby increasing the effect of air power at a lower cost and risk to RAF aircrew.
The drones will be able to detect and avoid enemy air defences and be sufficiently robust to continue on mission even if targeted by cyber attacks.
This revolutionary capability, which military chiefs hope will be deployed alongside Typhoon and F-35 Lightning jets by the end of the decade, is part of the wider Tempest programme to design the next generation of combat aircraft.
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, the Chief of the Air Staff said, “We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft…alongside piloted fighters like Tempest, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age.”
The LANCA project originated in 2015 in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to understand innovative air combat technologies and concepts that offer radical reductions in cost and development time.
The MoD’s Director Future Combat Air, Richard Berthon, said, “LANCA was a vital element of the RAF’s future combat capabilities – the Tempest programme – and would rapidly bring to life design, build and test skills for next generation aircraft and air combat systems. Autonomous ‘loyal wingman’ aircraft create the opportunity to expand, diversify and rapidly upgrade Combat Air Forces in a cost-effective way, now and in the future,” he said.
The Tempest programme is a UK partnership made up of BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Leonardo and MBDA. Employing around 2,500 people the programme aims to have fighter aircraft in service by the 2040s.
The air combat system is expected to include a mix of crewed aircraft, drones and so-called ‘optionally manned’ planes, that can be controlled from a ground-based control station, another aircraft or have a pilot onboard.
The MoD plans to start manufacturing the first aircraft by 2025.
By supporting the UK aerospace industry the MoD hopes to retain sovereignty over military equipment and not to have to rely on US defence companies for major programmes such as fighter jets.
Trevor Taylor, of the Royal United Services Institute, says the Tempest programme “represents a national strategic commitment, especially since a decision to move UK industry away from manned combat aircraft would not be reversible in the future”.
The programme’s embrace of digital engineering on the scale required to develop the ‘loyal wingman’ concept “should benefit much if not all of the UK manufacturing sector,” Mr Taylor wrote in a recent paper.
Given the competition from the US defence sector, any watering-down of the Tempest programme would likely be viewed in Defence circles as a lack of government confidence in the British aerospace sector.
“Any claim of a UK government to be an independent major military actor on the world stage would be massively undermined by even more enhanced reliance on American equipment,” Mr Taylor said.
“In the eyes of the rest of the world, British forces could simply look like subsidiaries of the US military.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
22 Jan 21. Upgrades in sight for French MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. France is currently negotiating with the United States and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) for future upgrades of its 12 MQ-9 Reapers medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Christophe Fontaine, regional director for GA-ASI in Europe, told the French association of defence journalists on 21 January that the French Air and Space Force-operated Reapers will be upgraded to extend their endurance. The aircraft will be able to fly up to 30 hours – up from 24 hours – for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, while endurance in the armed configuration will increase to 24 hours from 17 hours.
Negotiations are also being conducted by the French procurement agency Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) with the US Air Force (USAF) to equip the air vehicles with a signal intelligence (SIGINT) pod. France has opted for an off-the-shelf US-made pod and is also considering development of an indigenous system.
France is also set to receive a new full mission simulator developed by Canadian company CAE that will be based in Cognac to train UAV crews. Fontaine explained that, while France is set on receiving these different upgrades, negotiations are still ongoing regarding the price and the schedule for the deliveries of the new capabilities.
GA-ASI has made a separate offer to France for a self-defence pod for the air vehicles. This is equipped with a jamming system and flare launchers designed to increase the MQ-9’s survivability in contested environments. (Source: Jane’s)
21 Jan 21. Dynetics’ Gremlins Demo System Completes 3rd Test. Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, successfully completed a third test flight series in which the Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) and Gremlins Recovery System flew three more times. The system has totaled seven flight hours during the month of November. The test took place at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
This test series focused on two objectives – demonstrating the automated, manual safety behaviors and continuing progress toward multiple aerial docking attempts. The safety behaviors demonstrated safe operation of the X-61A GAV on the range in close formation with the manned C-130 recovery aircraft.
“Our innovative safety functions are a critical part of the Gremlins system,” said Tim Keeter, program manager for the Dynetics Gremlins team. “With five total flights to date, almost 11 hours logged in flight and a thorough, disciplined test plan, we are pleased with the safe operation of our system. That’s a significant milestone for Gremlins.”
After the second test in July, the Dynetics Gremlins team was able to continue progress towards multiple aerial docking attempts with the Gremlins Autonomous Docking System (GADS). The team ultimately achieved the program’s first ever aerial docking attempts, nine attempts in total, with each attempt coming within inches of capture.
“Our goal is to advance as far along on our test objectives, collect data, and thereby mature the system as much as we can,” said Keeter. “The ultimate program goal, of course, is safe, reliable airborne recovery at a 4-in-30 minute rate. While we have not yet achieved that objective, every time we fly, we get better.”
Similar to July’s test flight, the three GAVs were successfully recovered on the ground using the parachute system. All four GAVs are presently being prepared for the next series of flights in early 2021.
Dynetics was one of four companies awarded a Phase 1 contract for the Gremlins program in 2016. Phase 2 was awarded in March 2017 to two of the initial four performers, and Phase 3 followed in April 2018, when Dynetics was named the top performer. The maiden flight of the X-61A occurred in November 2019, flying as predicted with no anomalies in the operational system. (Source: ASD Network)
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.