High-Altitude Launched UAVs Deliver Sensor Payloads

The test launches reached altitudes of up to 57,000 feet
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Raven Aerostar successfully launched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from eight high altitude balloons that resulted in smaller payload vehicles placing sensors within feet of their intended ground targets.

The test launches—which reached altitudes of up to 57,000 feet—were conducted at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz. on Sept. 1, 2011 for the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) Vehicle Research Section, which is overseeing the Autonomous Deployment Demonstration (ADD) program.Raven released details of the launches on Dec. 21.

The balloon demonstration facilitated “close-in cover autonomous disposable aircraft” (CICADA) vehicles that held sensor payloads and which came to rest within 15 feet from their intended landing targets, according to Raven. The ADD field trials successfully demonstrate that CICADA can perform a precision delivery of a payload after being carried aloft by a hand-launched balloon.

“The ADD balloon support operation is very simple and well developed,” said Mike Smith, Aerostar International’s senior aerospace engineer. “The preflight checks, balloon inflation, launch and tracking operations can be carried out by two people in one vehicle from almost any remote location,” he said. The balloon tracking system consists of a small radio frequency modem attached to a laptop computer.

The UAV used for the test was the “Tempest,” and it had two CICADA vehicles attached on wing-mounted pylons. The Tempest UAVs were released from the balloons, and autonomously executed pull‐up maneuvers. The UAVs carried the two CICADAs to a drop location where they were released and autonomously flew to the preprogrammed target waypoint.

“Many remote sensors are currently hand emplaced,” says Chris Bovais, NRL aeronautical engineer and flight test coordinator. “The CICADA allows for the low-cost delivery of multiple precision-located sensors without placing the warfighter in harm’s way.”