The “Gremlins” Are Coming!—Meet DARPA’s New Air-Launched Drones


IN BRIEF

Several companies will attempt to make the “Gremlins” program a reality. They now have the challenge of creating a system of reusable unmanned vehicles that can launch from bigger aircraft such as bombers or jets.

PHASE 1 IS A GO

While drone technology has crept up to the civilian market, with multiple modifications made for the tech-savvy consumer, large scale drone research is still firmly in the hands of the military. DARPA is at the forefront of this, with multiple research programs into the military use of drones.

Now it’s at it again, developing another milestone for the boys in green.

DARPA has awarded Phase 1 contracts to several companies who will attempt to make the “Gremlins” program a reality. They now have the challenge of creating a system of reusable unmanned vehicles that can launch from bigger aircraft like bombers or jets.

In particular, four companies have been selected: Lockheed Martin, Dynetics of Alabama, Composite Engineering, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of California. The companies are tasked with using their technical genius to conjure up launch and retrieval techniques, low-cost airframe designs and develop the drones’ navigation system and digital flight controls.

Learn more about DARPA in the video below:

PACKING HEAT

The Gremlins program, revealed last year, seeks to show the feasibility of conducting safe, reliable operations involving multiple air-launched, air-recoverable unmanned systems.

The goal of the program is to have bombers or transport aircraft launch groups or swarms of reusable unmanned vehicles called gremlins for intelligence and reconnaissance purposes. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air, and then return to base where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Gremlins are expected to last 20 uses, and may also launch from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms when bombers are out of range.

Such air-launched drones are primarily a cost-reducing program, bridging the gap between missiles that are one-use only, and reusable systems that are costly to maintain. The program aims to prove that such systems could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems, spreading out payload and airframe costs over multiple uses instead of just one.

The Gremlins program is named for the imaginary, mischievous imps whom World War II airmen blamed for the frequent mechanical woes that beset their planes.

No word yet as to what happens if you feed them after midnight.

e DARPA’s Newest Project? Spidey-Sense


IN BRIEF

The system uses an optical camera for detection, as well as “passive ranging features” to predict whether any nearby aircraft will cross its flight path. If there’s a potential collision, it’ll recommend the best evasive action that complies with air safety regulations.

Your run-of-the mill civilian drone probably has some sort of obstacle avoidance system, since this is the sort of thing drone tests and federal regulators make a big deal out of. They could avoid stationary or slow things like trees or cyclists.

But what about faster things? DARPA has been at the forefront of UAV tech, but how does it keep the airspace trouble-free?

Answer? Drone spidey-sense.

DARPA recently conducted tests of a new “sense-and-avoid” system that allows unmanned drones to detect aircraft even before they enter visual range.

The system, the size of a shoebox, uses an optical camera for detection, and also employs “passive ranging features.” These features allow the UAV to predict whether any nearby aircraft will cross its flight path and recommend the best evasive action that complies with air safety regulations.

The work is part of a DARPA effort to create a low-cost, easily installed system to detect oncoming or crossing aircraft. The next phase is to make it even smaller and add new features, like the ability to detect aircraft below the horizon line.

Boeing Patents Weird Aircraft That Could Stay Aloft for Years


IN BRIEF

Boeing patented a plane, but not for transportation purposes. It acts like a satellite, but costs far less, and it employs solar panels as a power source.

IS THAT A PLANE?

Boeing recently patented a strange-looking plane. It can fly at a high altitude and is solar-powered. It looks weird because this design is a must, if we want sunlight to hit the solar panels at all times (which we do, lest the plane crash).

Patent Yogi
Boeing

Solar panels are attached not only to the wings but also to the “winglets,” those things sticking right up at the tips of the wings.  Well, that is the price Boeing has to pay for this aircraft to stay aloft for years! Honestly, it doesn’t even remotely resemble the airplanes we usually see.

But according to Boeing, a 747 equipped with highly efficient solar cells on the upper parts of its wings can only receive 600 kilowatts (800 horsepower) or about 0.8% of what the aircraft requires for it to maintain cruising speed and altitude, even if the cells have 100% efficiency and directly under the sun.

Actual solar cells can only provide around 0.3% of needed power.

SO IT’S NOT FOR TRANSPORTATION

Thus, Boeing suggests that this plane should be used for different applications, ones where it has to stay in a fixed position over a certain location. One  option is for imaging systems, such as cameras and radars. Another is as for a communication systems for cellphone signals, television broadcasts, etc. It may also be used for measuring wind speed, temperature, humidity, and for other atmospheric sensing purposes. In short, it functions like a satellite, but costs far less.

This means that the power requirement for air transportation is very large as compared to what can be harnessed from solar energy. For now, travelling via solar-powered airplane is far from reality.

Charles Bombardier: drones are the future, not flying cars


Charles Bombardier, Canadian inventor and engineer, is the founder of Imaginactive, a non-profit dedicated to innovative ideas in vehicle design. Like his grandfather Joseph-Armand Bombardier, he has many great ideas that might change the transport industry as we know it. In this exclusive interview with AeroTime, Charles shares his insights about the future trends in aircraft design. 

What are your thoughts on current trends in aircraft design? What ideas should be tossed away and what concepts should be embraced on a wider scale?

I think that we are going in the right direction with lighter aircraft structures and more efficient engines (C-Series). The biggest problem we face is development cost. Companies take the risk to develop new technologies and that risk needs to be shared with the users and the countries that will benefit from them.

If we had the capital we could develop really high-tech airplanes but it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to develop them. Are the customers and the public ready to assign that much capital to airline travel? Maybe it should be invested in faster trains? That is one of the problems behind development. I think that in the future more alliances will be made between countries and companies to reduce the risk associated with R&D and marketing, and we will be able to work on bold projects like the ones proposed by NASA.

 In your concepts you seem to use many elements from animal biology. What inspires you most – nature or science fiction?

Real problems inspire me the most. Technology inspired me the most to solve those problems. If the technology uses biomimetic principles then I will feature it. Science fiction is inspiring too but it lacks credibility. I am willing to avoid going into detail to leave room for interpretation but I am not willing to say something like “this is a Transporter and it simply teleports you”.

My goal is to inspire people including tinkerers, designers, engineers and policy makers. I would like to build a positive view of our future and encourage the next generation to talk about the world they want to live in. By sharing my ideas openly I am also asking indirectly to consumers a primordial question: are you interested in this idea? If a concept gets lots of attention, it helps to convince investors to finance a prototype. In a way, it’s a step before crowdfunding.

 How many of your own concepts have been brought to life?

A scale model of the Nunavik arctic express was built; Iruka and Wingsurf were also built as prototypes (not by me). I know there are more but I don’t keep track of them, and some tinkerers or companies might prefer to keep their projects confidential. Once I publish a concept idea, it becomes out of my hands.

I would like to try the Sekonride at home; it’s a VR powersport simulator. It would be cool to explore new worlds with it.  In airports I would really like to use a system like the Escatek concept to save time. In Montreal, a driverless motorcycle like the Cyclotron would be handy to commute daily. Of course I have lots of other favorites; these are just the ones that come to mind.

 

After more than 20 years in development, roadable aircraft AeroMobil 3.0 is expected to enter the market in 2017. How optimistic are you about flying cars?

I think light eccentric drones is the way to the future of solo or tandem flying, flying cars are too heavy. I think people will start using shared cars and shared drones depending on what they need to accomplish. So it will be more efficient this way for everyone.

From your point of view, could solar power aircraft be used to power large passenger airplanes?

I don’t see that happening. A glider with very fragile wings achieved this but imagine the power required to carry 800 people with their luggage and the structure designed to carry them safely! Solar power is limited by the surface you can cover. I think electricity storage is the way to go, in the meantime maybe hydrogen could be exploited but it’s too expensive compared to jet fuel. Like I said, lighter aircraft and more efficient engines and aerodynamics is the way to go. At least in the short term.

Will hybrid airplanes (such as the Airlander 10) be entering the market any time soon?

Well, you caught me there! I’ve been so busy these last few months that I missed its maiden flight, so I will need to take a look at it and get back to you. Anyway the problem is not finding new ways to fly, it’s the risk associated with developing the technology. There is simply not enough risk takers to support the amount of capital required to develop a plane. So what we need to do is become creative on how we will finance future aircraft designs and think outside the traditional box.

Watch the video. URL:https://youtu.be/kzYb68qXpD0

New Navy Tech Makes It Easy to Land on a Carrier. Yes, Easy


FOR NAVY PILOTS who land jets on aircraft carriers, life is tough. First, there’s the bit about touching down at precisely the right time and position to have the tailhook catch the arresting wire and bring you to a stop before the runway—all 300 feet of it— runs out. And then there’s the fact flight decks don’t stay still. They heave and sway with the sea. In the seconds before touchdown, a pilot typically makes hundreds of small changes to his trajectory.

The US Navy says new tech could make white-knuckle carrier traps a thing of the past. It recently completed testing the Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, a software mod that makes a carrier approach nearly as routine as a runway landing. In the Pentagon’s honored tradition of strained acronyms, the Navy calls it Magic Carpet.

According to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland, which led the development of Magic Carpet, the system works with the plane’s autopilot to maintain the approach using what’s called direct lift control. In short, once the pilot sets the glide angle of the approach, it becomes the “neutral” setting for the controls.

160624-N-YB023-060

The autopilot tracks the position of the deck, adjusting the throttle, flaps, ailerons, and stabilizers to keep the flight path and angle of attack on point. Instead of maintaining continuous pressure on the stick and making myriad inputs before landing, the pilot can relax. Any adjustments he does make are incorporated into the autopilot settings.

During a week of trials last month, test pilots flying F/A-18 Super Hornets conducted nearly 600 touch-and-go landings and many tailhook-arrested landings on the Nimitz-class USS George Washington. They made both highly accurate approaches and deliberately inaccurate approaches, with varying wind speeds and directions. According to engineers with the Navy and Boeing, the system increased the accuracy and consistency of landings under all conditions. Those landings were less stressful, too: Pilots typically perform 300 corrections to their flight path in the final 18 seconds of an approach. Magic Carpet drops that between 10 and 20.

The Navy is quick to stress that the system is not fully automated, and pilots remain in control. Magic Carpet just simplifies the descent. And because it augments existing flight control systems, it doesn’t require hardware mods. It will take flight on the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler, and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, all of which have the digital flight controls needed to work with the system.

The Navy expects to start integrating the system in 2019. Beyond reducing stress, Magic Carpet could minimize the time and effort needed to train pilots for carrier landings, allowing more time for tactical training. It also could reduce the time and money spent maneuvering carriers into ideal landing positions. Fewer aborted landings saves fuel, and fewer hard landings saves wear and tear on aircraft. And you thought Aladdin’s flying carpet was cool.

Airlander 10: Meet the World’s Largest Aircraft


New photographs of the world’s longest aircraft were made public yesterday ahead of its official unveiling and first UK test flight. They show the Airlander 10 — part plane, part airship and part helicopter. The aircraft is 302ft (92m) long, which is about 60ft (18m) longer than the biggest airliners. The British firm Hybrid Air vehicles (HAV) have designed the craft to stay airborne for up to three weeks using helium and the vessel is able to travel at a speed of 92mph.

Airlander 10: Meet the World’s Largest Aircraft

HAV will unveil the Airlander 10, standing at 26m high and 44m wide, in a First World War aircraft hangar in Bedfordshire today and it will undergo its first test flight in a few weeks’ time. It was first developed in 2009 for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft but its manufacture was hindered by defence cut-backs. HAV says the vessel, which is silent and emits no pollution, could be the future for air travel.

HAV believe the airship, which cost £25m to build, could be used for a host of functions including surveillance, communications, delivering aid and even passenger travel. It is hoped the Airlander 10 will eventually be developed to be able to transport 50 tonnes of freight. As it is heavier than air, the aircraft is able to land without tethers on a variety of surfaces, including water and ice. The firm is hoping to build 12 Airlanders a year by 2018, some as passenger aircraft that will carry up to 48 people at a time.

Airlander 10: meet the world’s largest aircraft

Airlander 10: meet the world’s largest aircraft

Chris Daniels, Head of Partnerships at HAV, said: “We will not compete with a 747 flying across the Atlantic, but we can offer the ultimate flight experience for tourism and leisure purposes. “It’s perfect for sightseeing because we can have floor to ceiling clear panels, and we can open the windows because we are not flying as high or as fast as traditional planes, but we will not be offering a service to get from A to B as quickly as possible.”

Airlander 10: meet the world’s largest aircraft
Airlander 10: meet the world’s largest aircraft
Airlander 10: meet the world’s largest aircraft