U.S. Air Force successfully tests reusable runway-independent unmanned aerial system

Jan. 31, 2020
The XQ-58A was developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio. It is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable UAS capable of completing a wide range of operational missions.

In this week’s roundup from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which highlights some of the latest news and headlines in unmanned vehicles and robotics, the U.S. Air Force completes its fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, the Madison Police Department is Wisconsin, USA deploys UAS, and new partners join the AiRXOS the Air Mobility Platform Ecosystem.

AFRL, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions complete fourth flight test of XQ-58A Valkyrie UAS

On Jan. 23, 2020, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and its partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. successfully completed the fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost UAS demonstrator at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

The Valkyrie demonstrator’s flight not only successfully met all of the test objectives during the flight test, but the envelope was also expanded beyond prior tests before the UAS landed safely in the Arizona desert.

Flying at a higher altitude allowed researchers to collect data in an “operational environment more representative of real-world flight conditions,” according to AFRL XQ-58A Program Manager Michael Wipperman.

“Flying at this altitude helped us gather important data such as vehicle response to temperature and vibration, which will prepare us as we move toward our next flight test,” Wipperman says.

The January flight was a return-to-flight for the XQ-58A, as the UAS experienced a mishap upon landing after a successful 90-minute flight in Oct. 2019. The UAS went through a Safety Investigation Board probe, resulting in information that was “outbriefed” to the convening authority. The recommendations were taken and approved to make sure that this latest test was a success.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test,” Wipperman says.

“We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions.”

The XQ-58A was developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio. It is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable UAS capable of completing a wide range of operational missions.

Developed through low cost procurement, the UAS is designed to be significantly cheaper to operate in comparison to traditional piloted or unpiloted vehicles, while still being able to achieve the same critical missions. This is the first example of a class of UAS developed through this time-saving process, as it took just two and a half years from contract award to first flight.

Five flights are planned for the XQ-58A. Objectives include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. The fifth flight, which is scheduled for later this year, will be a capability demonstration showcasing the ability of the vehicle to support operational needs.

Madison Police put UAS to work

Wisconsin's Madison Police department (MPD) has found no shortage of use cases for its UAS.

Just a few weeks ago, the UAS was used to help SWAT during a search operation at a hotel. According to MPD South District Captain Mike Hanson, the department used thermal sensors to scope out the hotel room to get a clear sense of direction.

"In that case a building window to be able to peer in. Is anyone being held hostage? Are there weapons?” Captain Hanson said via WMTV.

In late 2019, the UAS was used to locate a driver trying to escape their arrest.

"If we can do that with the drone and no one gets hurt and we have a successful outcome like we did, then it benefits everybody," Captain Hanson added.

Captain Hanson said that he wants the department to keep up with the technology as it evolves. Currently, research is being conducted surrounding the concept of a mini drone that can be launched by officers as soon as they leave a squad car.

"Instead of body worn cameras it's giving a view from a different angle," Captain Hanson said. "If they're going to a dangerous situation this can be forward looking and get out before the officer.”

AiRXOS adds 11 UAS partners to its Air Mobility Platform Ecosystem

In an effort to help scale and accelerate the adoption of compliant, safe, and extensible Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platforms for agencies and enterprise organizations, AiRXOS has added 11 UAS technology, service, and business partners to its Air Mobility Platform Ecosystem, which currently includes Measure.

The new partners include Adams and Reese LLP, AeroVironment, Airborne International Response Team (AIRT) Inc., Avitas Systems, DeTect Inc., Fortem Technologies, Kongsberg Geospatial, Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) and The New York UAS Test Site, SRC Inc., SPH Engineering, and Syniverse.

“In integrating our Ecosystem partners into the Air Mobility Platform, we deliver a safe, trusted, seamless global network of leading edge UAS solutions to our customers - an easy way to consume innovation and multiple applications and technologies in one seamless solution,” explains Kenneth Stewart, CEO of AiRXOS.

“Every industry leading partner we bring into the Air Mobility Platform Ecosystem brings another layer of value, expertise, and function to our customers and we are pleased to be able to showcase these real-world capabilities in our new Innovation Centers.”

According to AiRXOS, the expanded Air Mobility Platform Ecosystem provides “integrated best-in-class technology & functionality, built-in regulatory compliance, and a fully integrated view of airspace for real-time airspace insights - for greater scalability and repeatability of advanced UAS operations.”

AiRXOS will showcase these UTM platforms by launching two new Innovation Centers; one at its headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other at the GE Aviation offices in Pinellas Park, Florida. Both sites will showcase “real-world advanced UAS operations” in a Command Center setting.

“Simple, reliable UTM solutions are urgently needed to ensure safe and effective flight operations during all types of public safety and disaster response missions,” says Christopher Todd, executive director, AIRT Inc.

“Our Drone Responders partnership with AiRXOS will allow first responders and emergency managers to help shape how this amazing new technology will help save lives and protect property.”

Michael Hertzendorf, CEO, NUAIR, adds, “partnering with AiRXOS compliments and enhances the UTM capabilities and research that we’ve been conducting in Central New York at the New York UAS Test Site and 50-mile UAS corridor. Together, we will accomplish our collective goal of the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace by helping to build a universal UTM system.”

Share your vision-related news by contacting Dennis Scimeca, Associate Editor, Vision Systems Design


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