Category Archives: Air Force

Tempest

Announcing the publication of the new Combat Air Strategy at the Farnborough International Airshow, the Defence Secretary said he had taken action to strengthen the UK’s role as a global leader in the sector and to protect key skills across the UK industrial base.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson speaks at the Farnborough airshow in front of a full-scale mockup of Tempest, the Royal Air Force’s future combat aircraft concept, for which he said £2 billion has been earmarked (UK MoD photo)
British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson speaks at the Farnborough airshow in front of a full-scale mockup of Tempest, the Royal Air Force’s future combat aircraft concept, for which he said £2 billion has been earmarked (UK MoD photo)

He outlined the Strategy in front of the combat aircraft concept model which has been developed by UK industry in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence – being publicly unveiled for the first time, it acts as a powerful demonstration of the UK’s world leading technical capability and industrial expertise.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

  • «We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way. It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like.
  • British defence industry is a huge contributor to UK prosperity, creating thousands of jobs in a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, and generating a UK sovereign capability that is the best in the world.
  • Today’s news leaves industry, our military, the country, and our allies in no doubt that the UK will be flying high in the combat air sector as we move into the next generation».

For the last 100 years the UK combat air industrial sector has ensured the UK has been at the forefront of technological and engineering developments, delivering world leading capability to the RAF and our allies. This Strategy will ensure the UK continues to maintain this leading position.

The Strategy outlines the way in which the UK will acquire future Combat Air capabilities to maximise the overall value the UK derives from the sector. The framework will balance military capability, international influence, and economic and prosperity benefit along with the overall cost.

It reinforces the commitment in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review to deliver the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). The Government, in partnership with industry, is taking steps to grow existing world-leading design engineering capacity and skills, ensuring that the UK continues to be at the cutting edge of combat air technology.

The concept aircraft has been put together by British firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, which have joined together with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office to form ‘Team Tempest’ to pursue the opportunity.

Team Tempest brings together the UK’s world leading industry and sovereign capabilities across future combat air’s four key technology areas: advanced combat air systems and integration (BAE Systems); advanced power and propulsion systems (Rolls-Royce); advanced sensors, electronics and avionics (Leonardo) and advanced weapon systems (MBDA).

The MOD will now set up a dedicated team to deliver the combat air acquisition programme. They will deliver a business case by the end of the year and have initial conclusions on international partners by next summer – with engagement with potential partners beginning immediately.

Early decisions around how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next generation platform to have operational capability by 2035.

The UK is already a world-leader in the combat air sector, with a mix of skills and technologies unique in Europe, supporting over 18,000 highly skilled jobs. The sector delivers a turnover in excess of £6bn a year and has made up over 80% of defence exports from the UK over the last ten years.

Investment in combat air technology, combined with the strengths of UK industry, has resulted in the UK being the only Tier 1 partner with the US on the F-35 Lightning II programme, with British industry delivering 15% by value of every F-35 built. The UK has been able to help define the operational capabilities of the aircraft, while reinforcing UK industrial capability, critical skills and supporting wider economic prosperity.

The UK also continues to lead the way in combat air power as one of the four partner nations in the Eurofighter Typhoon programme. With more than 20,000 flying hours on deployed operations to date, the Typhoon delivers world leading capability, unparalleled reliability and proven interoperability with our allies. The MOD will continue to invest in the Typhoon for decades to come, with the best technologies being carried forward on to next-generation systems.

The F-35 Lightning II and the Typhoon are two complementary multi-role combat aircraft that will make up the RAF’s combat air fleet, placing the UK at the forefront of combat air technology – with the Typhoon expected to remain in UK service until at least 2040.

The concept aircraft has been put together by British firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce
The concept aircraft has been put together by British firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce

Flight testing

The KC-46 Pegasus program achieved an important milestone July 6, 2018, at Boeing Field, Seattle, with completion of the final flight tests required for first aircraft delivery planned in late October.

A KC-46A Pegasus tanker takes off from Boeing Field, Seattle, June 4, 2018. The KC-46 Pegasus program achieved an important milestone July 6, with completion of the final flight tests required for first aircraft delivery to the U.S. Air Force (Courtesy photo)
A KC-46A Pegasus tanker takes off from Boeing Field, Seattle, June 4, 2018. The KC-46 Pegasus program achieved an important milestone July 6, with completion of the final flight tests required for first aircraft delivery to the U.S. Air Force (Courtesy photo)

The integrated Air Force and Boeing test team completed all required test points for the Remote Vision System and for receiver certifications of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-17 Globemaster III. These two receivers, coupled with testing completed in June of KC-135 Stratotanker refueling the KC-46 Pegasus as a receiver, are the minimum required for delivery.

«With this milestone complete, the test program has demonstrated a level of maturity that positions Boeing to deliver, and the Air Force to accept, an aircraft by the end of October 2018», said Doctor Will Roper, the Air Force service acquisition executive.

The KC-46 Pegasus test program is now transitioning to follow-on receiver aircraft testing and certifications required for operational testing starting in 2019.

On June 4, 2018, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David L. Goldfein met with the men and women testing the KC-46 Pegasus at Boeing Field to witness their hard work firsthand. While flying on a scheduled KC-46 Pegasus test mission, Goldfein flew the aircraft and its boom in between test points and observed C-17 Globemaster III receiver aircraft certification testing.

«It was a pleasure to fly the KC-46 Pegasus, an aircraft that will enhance our lethality and global warfighting capabilities», Goldfein said. After the recent test point completion, he added, «I am encouraged by the team’s progress in putting another significant milestone behind us. The collective Air Force, Boeing, Federal Aviation Administration, and Defense Contract Management Agency team is laser-focused on the remainder of activities needed to certify and accept this much-needed tanker in late October. I am excited for our Air Force as we move closer to having this aircraft in the hands of our warfighters who will unleash its demonstrated capabilities in support of the Joint fight».

 

General Characteristics

Primary Function Aerial refueling and airlift
Prime Contractor The Boeing Company
Power Plant 2 × Pratt & Whitney 4062
Thrust 62,000 lbs./275.790 kN/28,123 kgf – Thrust per High-Bypass engine (sea-level standard day)
Wingspan 157 feet, 8 inches/48.1 m
Length 165 feet, 6 inches/50.5 m
Height 52 feet, 10 inches/15.9 m
Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) 415,000 lbs./188,240 kg
Maximum Landing Weight 310,000 lbs./140,614 kg
Fuel Capacity 212,299 lbs./96,297 kg
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load 207,672 lbs./94,198 kg
Maximum Cargo Capacity 65,000 lbs./29,484 kg
Maximum Airspeed 360 KCAS (Knots Calibrated AirSpeed)/0.86 M/414 mph/667 km/h
Service Ceiling 43,100 feet/13,137 m
Maximum Distance 7,299 NM/8,400 miles/13,518 km
Pallet Positions 18 pallet positions
Air Crew 15 permanent seats for aircrew, including aeromedical evacuation aircrew
Passengers 58 total (normal operations); up to 114 total (contingency operations)
Aeromedical Evacuation 58 patients (24 litters/34 ambulatory) with the AE Patient Support Pallet configuration; 6 integral litters carried as part of normal aircraft configuration equipment

 

Patrol aircraft

Leonardo has signed a contract to supply an ATR 72MP aircraft to the Italian Customs Police and provide associated logistics support and training services. The contract, valued about 44-million euros, was awarded following a European tender and includes options which would bring the total value up to 250 million euros. The first delivery will take place in 2019.

Italy’s customs police ordered its first ATR-72MP maritime patrol aircraft, similar to this one operated by the Italian Air Force, with more on option. Delivery is planned for 2019 (Leonardo photo)
Italy’s customs police ordered its first ATR-72MP maritime patrol aircraft, similar to this one operated by the Italian Air Force, with more on option. Delivery is planned for 2019 (Leonardo photo)

Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo’s CEO, said: «We are proud that the Italian Customs Police, which already operates our aircraft and helicopters, continues to place their trust in our capabilities. The ATR 72MP, based on the modern ATR 72-600 regional turboprop aircraft, is a tangible example of Leonardo’s leadership position in both platforms and their systems. This is an aircraft that can carry out numerous roles including maritime patrol, searching for and identifying surface vessels, Search & Rescue (SAR) missions, the prevention of narcotic-trafficking, piracy and smuggling, territorial water security and the monitoring-of and intervention-in ecological disasters. It comes equipped with our latest-generation communications and data sharing systems, meaning the aircraft can transmit and receive real-time information to and from ground-based command and control centres and airborne/maritime platforms, improving coordination and maximising operational effectiveness».

The ATR 72MP will be part of the Italian Customs Police’s range of airborne and naval capabilities which can be called on to respond to the wide range of missions carried out by the organisation. Because of its airborne capabilities, the Customs Police is the only law enforcement agency in Italy able to provide full surveillance coverage along the entirety of the country’s coastal border and in international waters.

Equipment on-board the ATR 72MP for the first time will support the Italian Customs Police in carrying out specific surveillance activities that come under their responsibility. The ATR 72MP will perform maritime patrol and search using on-board sensors to detect and identify sensitive targets, maintaining a position of low observability when necessary, monitoring target’s behaviour, recording proof for prosecutions and directing naval and land-based assets.

The ATR 72MP, already in service with the Italian Air Force which refers to it as the P-72A, is equipped with Leonardo’s ‘ATOS’ (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) modular mission system. The ATOS manages the aircraft’s wide spectrum of sensors, fusing the information gathered in complex situations and presenting a single tactical picture to operators, providing excellent situational awareness.

Thanks to the system’s advanced man-machine interface, only two system operators are needed to fully exploit the ATOS in the aircraft’s standard configuration. Thanks to its commercial design, the ATR 72MP also features crew ergonomics that help maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of operators during lengthy missions such as maritime patrol, search and identification, search and rescue, counter-smuggling, anti-piracy and territorial water protection, all of which typically last in excess of 8 hours.

Hungarian helicopters

Donauwörth, The Hungarian Ministry of Defence has ordered 20 H145M military helicopters equipped with the innovative HForce weapon management in the frame of the military modernisation programme Zrinyi 2026. Together with the helicopters, Airbus will provide an extensive training and support package.

H145M with HForce weapon system
H145M with HForce weapon system

«We are honoured to be of service – once more – to the Hungarian Ministry of Defence whom we today welcome as a new customer for our H145M helicopters. With this new order, we are fostering our excellent and trustful relationship with the Hungarian Armed Forces after their acquisition of two A319 military troop transporters last year. Team Airbus is grateful for the continued trust and confidence that the Hungarian government has placed in our products», said Tom Enders, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus.

With a maximum take-off weight of 3.7 tonnes, the H145M can be used for a wide range of tasks, including troop transport, utility, surveillance, air rescue, armed reconnaissance and medical evacuation. The Hungarian fleet will be equipped with a fast roping system, high-performance camera, fire support equipment, ballistic protection as well as an electronic countermeasures system to support the most demanding operational requirements. The HForce system, developed by Airbus Helicopters, will allow Hungary to equip and operate their aircraft with a large set of ballistic or guided air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons.

The H145M is a tried-and-tested light twin-engine helicopter that was first delivered in 2015 to the German Armed Forces and has since been ordered by Thailand and the Republic of Serbia. The programme’s maturity allows Airbus Helicopters to execute orders on cost and on schedule. Mission readiness of the H145Ms already in service is above 95 percent.

Powered by two Safran Arriel 2E engines, the H145M is equipped with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC). In addition, the helicopter is equipped with the Helionix digital avionics suite which includes a high-performance 4-axis autopilot, increasing safety and reducing pilot workload. Its particularly low acoustic footprint makes the H145M the quietest helicopter in its class.

 

Characteristics

DIMENSIONS
Length (rotor rotating) 44.72 feet/13.63 m
Fuselage length 38.35 feet/11.69 m
Height 13.12 feet/4 m
Main rotor diameter 36.09 feet/11 m
Width (blades folded) 8.89 feet/2.71 m
CAPABILITIES
Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) 8,157 lbs/3,700 kg
Useful Load 3,900 lbs/1,769 kg
Sling load 3,307 lbs/1,500 kg
Maximum seating 1/2 pilots + 10/9 troops
ENGINE
2 × Turbomeca ARRIEL 2E turboshaft engines
Maximum Continuous Power (MCP) 2×771 shp/2×575 kW
Take-Off Power (TOP) 2×894 shp/2×667 kW
2 min One Engine Inoperative (OEI) 1×1,038 shp/1×775 kW
30 sec OEI-power 1×1,072 shp/1×800 kW
PERFORMANCE AT MTOW
Speed (Vne – never exceed speed) 135 knots/155 mph/250 km/h
Fast Cruise speed (Vh – maximum speed) 132 knots/152 mph/244 km/h
Maximum range 357 NM/411 miles/662 km
Hover ceiling OGE (TOP), ISA 8,858 feet/2,700 m

 

AgilePod

In March 2018, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Sensors Program Office, working jointly with the AFLCMC Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Office, sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center recently sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod (Courtesy photo)
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center recently sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod (Courtesy photo)

The flights were a first for AgilePod on an Air Force major weapon system and were the result of collaboration between AFLCMC and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).

«These flights mark the culmination of more than two years of cutting-edge technology development led by our colleagues within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate ManTech team, and Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team», said Lieutenant Colonel Elwood Waddell, the advanced technologies branch chief within the Sensors Program Office.

The AgilePod program will offer a family of non-proprietary, government-owned pods of several sizes that can accommodate various missions, quickly change payloads and fit on multiple platforms.

The program uses open adaptable architecture and standards-based design to ensure maximum flexibility without proprietary constraints.

«The AgilePod program began with a desire to bring agile manufacturing practices to the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) enterprise, culminating in a wholly government-owned, open architecture ISR capability that was both payload and platform agnostic», said Andrew Soine, a program manager with AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. «The program is really taking off, with proposed ISR and non-ISR applications that we couldn’t have foreseen only a few years ago. By owning the technical baseline, we’ve shown what can be done in relatively little time and cost when faced with emergent user needs».

«Blue Guardian’s mission is to rapidly demonstrate emerging sensor technology», added Captain Juliana Nine, a program manager with AFRL’s Sensors Directorate. «These MQ-9 flights did exactly that. The open adaptable architecture based on Open Mission Systems and common electrical/mechanical interfaces developed by the Blue Guardian team enabled the rapid re-configurability of the sensors inside the AgilePod. This capability will help the warfighter adapt their sensor payloads as the mission dictates».

U.S. Air Force ownership of the registered trademark for AgilePod is key to the program, giving the Air Force the authority to designate a given pod as an AgilePod. This cultivates a highly collaborative relationship with industry partners as the Air Force shares existing technical data under the protection of an Information Transfer Agreement.

The agreement enables the sharing of all government technical data on AgilePod while protecting government ownership and enabling industry innovation. For the demonstration, the Air Force partnered with Leidos (facilitated the open architecture sensor integration), the University of Dayton Research Institute (implemented the open software for sensor command and control), AdamWorks (built the AgilePod) and General Atomics (integrated the podded system onto the MQ-9 aircraft).

«We believe this program has the potential to both increase the velocity at which future sensor technology is made available to the warfighter, as well as to improve agility in employing various sensor modalities to fit any given scenario», said Waddell.

The Sensors Program Office continues to collaborate with AFRL and industry partners on the design and upgrade of several AgilePod variants and has plans to test various sensor modalities within AgilePod on operational platforms in the near future.

Test Program

A team of U.S. Air Force engineers, test pilots, and Norwegian government and industry personnel recently completed a large phase of testing for the Joint Strike Missile (JSM).

A weapons load team prepares to remove a Joint Strike Missile from a 416th Flight Test Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon following a captive carriage test flight, February 27, 2018 (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)
A weapons load team prepares to remove a Joint Strike Missile from a 416th Flight Test Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon following a captive carriage test flight, February 27, 2018 (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

The JSM is Norway’s advanced anti-surface warfare missile designed for the new F-35A Lighting II’s internal weapons bay. The missile can be employed against sea- and land-based targets. Norway is a partner nation in the development of the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Before proceeding with integration testing on the F-35A Lighting II, the JSM was tested at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) on F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 416th Flight Test Squadron.

«The F-16 is a much more proven and mature platform in terms of technology development», said Collin Drake, 416th FLTS JSM project engineer. «The F-35 is still undergoing its own technology development and design iterations, which brings its own challenges. It made it a lot more efficient and effective to use F-16s to be able to test, mid-cycle, a new type of weapon».

Drake said the weapons development program at Edwards AFB began in 2015. The JSM missile system was matured and proven with ground testing, captive carriage testing (flight test missions to ensure the weapon would perform its designed functions prior to being released from the aircraft), and live-drop testing to verify the JSM’s ability to safely release from the aircraft and perform its autonomous functions.

Testing included multiple variants of the JSM that increased in complexity and capability throughout the course of the program. The first JSM was a glide-only weapon with an active autopilot, but without a live engine, according to Drake. The next several tests used a version of the JSM that still did not have a warhead, but had a live engine and navigation avionics. The different variants proved the JSM could sustain extended periods of flight under its own power and successfully navigate over different terrain.

All variants of the JSM were inert until the final flight test events where it hit a target with full mission systems software and guidance. Throughout the test program, numerous software and hardware changes and updates were made. All live releases of the weapon were conducted at the Utah Test and Training Range.

«The multi-national test team, including the 416th FLTS, was able to work with the weapon developer over the course of the program to improve the JSM in an incremental fashion, which has resulted in a reliable and high-performance missile system», Drake said. «It was an enormous milestone to release the final, all-up-round weapon».

Drake said Edwards AFB’s airspace, personnel, assets and the American-Norway alliance make it the ideal situation to test the JSM.

«The weapons ranges needed simply don’t exist in Norway», Drake said. «So, they were able to come here and utilize the Edwards AFB airspace and ground test facilities for the captive carriage flight and ground testing. The 416th FLTS has a long and storied history of testing systems with our foreign partners, especially with Norway. Norway has been a partner in F-16 development since its inception, so it was a natural fit to work with the Norwegian Ministry of Defense to make this technology development program a reality. The 416th FLTS is equipped to provide flight test expertise and is adaptable to accommodate the testing of first-of-its-kind hardware and software, such as that of the Joint Strike Missile».

The next step is for the Norwegians to integrate the JSM on to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and then on to further weapons and integration testing.

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon carries a developmental test version of Norway’s Joint Strike Missile to its release point above the Utah Test and Training Range west of Salt Lake City. When development is complete, the JSM is intended for use aboard the F-35A Lighting II. The 416th Flight Test Squadron recently wrapped up JSM testing (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon carries a developmental test version of Norway’s Joint Strike Missile to its release point above the Utah Test and Training Range west of Salt Lake City. When development is complete, the JSM is intended for use aboard the F-35A Lighting II. The 416th Flight Test Squadron recently wrapped up JSM testing (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)

HammerHead aircraft

On May 24, 2018, Piaggio Aerospace, a leading Italian aircraft manufacturer active in the business aviation and defense and security sectors, announced the successful accomplishment of the first flight test program, with its remotely piloted P.1HH HammerHead aircraft, aimed at experimenting the satellite control of a MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) system, designed for long endurance flights at medium altitudes.

Piaggio said the test is aimed at experimenting the satellite control of a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance drone, designed for long endurance flights at medium altitudes (Piaggio file photo)
Piaggio said the test is aimed at experimenting the satellite control of a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance drone, designed for long endurance flights at medium altitudes (Piaggio file photo)

The flight test program was performed in partnership with Telespazio, the joint venture between Leonardo (67%) and Thales (33%), which provided the satellite technology. The purpose of the program was to integrate the technologies that allow flying beyond the line of sight (BRLOS, Beyond Radio Line Of Sight) and to assess their performance.

The experimental campaign was carried out at Birgi Airport in Trapani by a team of experts by Piaggio Aerospace and Telespazio, who verified on the ground the efficiency of the satellite technology in several areas of application. Tests were performed by using the satellite Athena-Fidus, which is managed by the Fucino Space Centre of Telespazio. The satellite allowed both to communicate to the P.1HH the necessary information for the command and control of the aircraft, and also to transmit from the aircraft to the ground the on-board sensors’ data acquired during the flight, fully simulating surveillance missions in the BRLOS mode.

Fabio Guida, Chief Technology Officer of Piaggio Aerospace, remarked: «Our aircraft guaranteed the success of a key test at European level for the future development of the defense and security sector, that will increasingly rely upon remotely piloted systems of this class. The outstanding outcome is the evidence of Piaggio Aerospace’s commitment to the continuous development of the P.1HH HammerHead program, which will see the first deliveries this year. The platform represents the only European MALE product and is an uncontested excellence within the industry».

Artificial Intelligence

An engineer at NAWCAD is developing an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system with the potential to teach itself how to recognize and remove external interference from radar signals.

A J-UCAS aircraft body sits on a minimally reflective target pylon for radar cross-section testing at the National Radar Cross Section Test Facility (U.S. Air Force photo)
A J-UCAS aircraft body sits on a minimally reflective target pylon for radar cross-section testing at the National Radar Cross Section Test Facility (U.S. Air Force photo)

The AI system is an outgrowth of Ph.D. research into pulsars and mysterious cosmic signals called fast radio bursts conducted by the Atlantic Test Range’s (ATR) electrical engineer Stephen Itschner.

«I’m hoping it will help us automate a process that’s now very time consuming because we have to do it all by hand», said Itschner, who works with ATR’s Advanced Dynamic Aircraft Measurement System (ADAMS) group.

If successful, Itschner’s system will be integrated into ADAMS, which provides radar cross-section data from aircraft during flight tests.

«Radar cross-section is just a measure of how big a target looks to a radar», he said. «It’s more related to electrical size than to actual physical size. Radar signals bouncing back from an aircraft can be contaminated with external Radio Frequency Interference or RFI. It’s essentially the same as the static you hear on a radio when there’s lightning nearby. It can come from other radar sites, walkie-talkies, military radios, boat radios, even garage door openers».

When plotted on an x-y graph, RFI appears as sharp peaks throughout the radar signal, making it hard to tell what represents the true radar return from an aircraft and what is coming from unwanted external sources.

«Radar cross-section post-analysis is very labor-intensive», said Jim Ashley, head of ATR’s Aircraft Signature and Avionics Measurement branch. «We’re hoping Steve’s research will lead to an 80 percent solution – letting the machine do 80 percent of the work before we turn it over to our human analysts».

Itschner presented his initial results with a limited set of data at a meeting last week to the country’s top radar experts at the National Radar Cross Section Test Facility (NRTF) managed by Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

According to Itschner, his system achieved 80 percent correct RFI classifications with almost no false positives, that is, virtually no misidentification of true radar returns as RFI when using a «proof-of-concept» set of radar data from a Learjet. He trained the AI system on 90 percent of the Learjet data, then tested it against the remaining 10 percent which the system had not encountered before.

«I’ve gotten it to train and test well on one class of target», he said. «But I haven’t yet looked at whether that type of training will extend to, say, a helicopter or other type of jet».

Ashley said the ADAMS equipment is being upgraded to handle new, more complex aircraft programs that will require far greater data analysis capability. «It’s simply not going to be practical to continue using people to do all of it», he said.

«NRTF engineers at the conference have come to similar conclusions», Itschner said. «They independently found they’re going to have the same type of problem for a slightly different application and would need a solution similar to the one we’re working on. It gave me a nice warm feeling to know we’re on a promising track».

The similarities between Itschner’s work with radar and his Ph.D. research in radio astronomy led him to develop the artificial intelligence system, or machine learning, as he calls it. For his Ph.D. Itschner’s working on instruments and signal-processing techniques to identify fast radio bursts, which are very powerful but extremely brief eruptions of energy from deep space.

«They’re very mysterious signals and no one knows quite what they are», he said. «They only last for a millisecond and they’re completely unpredictable».

Itschner is looking for commonalities among fast radio bursts, radar and RFI in order to develop machine learning systems to analyze them.

He’s come up with a machine learning algorithm – a series of computer instructions – called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN). The CNN is able to identify whether a piece of radar data is corrupted with RFI or not. In his astronomy research, he uses a neural network to determine whether data captured by a radio telescope comes from a fast radio burst or not.

«People can learn to see the difference without too much training, and CNNs are really, really good at mimicking human vision performance», he said. «To hand-design an algorithm that can see the same differences people can, an engineer traditionally would choose features that would help discriminate between objects – two types of fish for example. I would say, ‘let’s look at the length of the fish and the number of fins it has’. I’d just try different things and then build a system around that. But that traditional approach restricts the algorithm’s discriminating ability. Its accuracy is limited by the engineer’s imagination».

So instead of telling his algorithm to look for specific characteristics of a real radar return data versus RFI, Itschner lets the CNN figure them out for itself.

«All you do is give the algorithm a bunch of examples and an answer key that says what class each example really belongs to, and the machine is able to learn the difference on its own», he said. «Eventually it learns to make correct decisions on new data so that a human doesn’t need to examine it».

Itschner’s initial results are encouraging, Ashley said. «The next step is to buy hardware for the higher processing power needed to train the system for a wider range of radar data», he said. The equipment is expected to arrive at ATR in time to begin running AI training algorithms next month.

«We’re not sure yet if it’s the right way forward», he said, «but Steve’s work will help us narrow down how best to apply it to ATR».

Demonstration Flights

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) today announced the first flight of the Guardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in Japan during an opening ceremony on Iki Island. The demonstration flights, taking place over the next three weeks, intend to promote the civil and scientific applications of the RPA.

GA-ASI Begins Demonstration Flights in Japan
GA-ASI Begins Demonstration Flights in Japan

«We thank the Mayor of Iki and the many other public and private stakeholders for their making this demonstration possible», said Linden Blue, CEO GA-ASI. «We believe that these flights of long-endurance RPAs in Japan’s maritime environment will provide valuable information, and we look forward to reviewing the important data gathered from these flights».

Mayor Shirakawa provided a statement, which said: «We are delighted to host the RPA flight demonstration on our island of Iki. The demonstration is an important milestone for the many peaceful uses of RPAs, including maritime disaster security and maritime resource management. Iki is located near the boundaries of Japan, so surveillance capabilities are an important matter for us. Furthermore, holding the nation’s first demonstration of this kind has great economic significance for our island. I thank the national government’s ministries and agencies and the many other public and private stakeholders for their cooperation».

The Guardian will collect data for scientific research that will be shared across multiple government agencies, while operating from the island of Iki, in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture.

This is the first demonstration of a long endurance RPA by a private company in Japan. The aircraft’s sensors include a long-range maritime surface-search radar, stabilized optical and infrared video cameras, and an active collision-avoidance system, which includes a short range air-to-air radar. This configuration is similar to that operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland security over the maritime approaches to the U.S.

For demonstration purposes, the Guardian flights will consist of approximately 10 five-hour sorties over a three-week period, originating out of Iki Airport; however, this aircraft configuration is capable of more than 20 hours endurance in a single sortie. The Guardian system will demonstrate various missions, including:

  • Meteorological, disaster-relief and oceanic observations;
  • Marine accidents and rescue support;
  • Air space management and support of communications.

GA-ASI is leading the demonstrations in cooperation with Iki Airport personnel and Japanese national authorities. The sensor data collected by Guardian will be provided to scientific research institutions, and flight data will be given to airspace management organizations to help establish procedures for using RPA systems in national and international civil airspace.

GA-ASI has sent its own team of experienced RPA pilots, sensor operators, and maintenance personnel to Japan to ensure safe operations during all phases of the demonstration. The demonstration is funded by GA-ASI and the equipment used belongs to the company.

Solar UAV

A new solar electric Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which has the potential to fly for up to a year before needing maintenance, has become a step closer to reality following a new agreement between two cutting-edge British companies, BAE Systems and Prismatic.

Solar UAV to be developed with the potential to stay airborne for a year
Solar UAV to be developed with the potential to stay airborne for a year

Engineers from Prismatic and BAE Systems will collaborate on the development of the new solar powered High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) UAV known as PHASA-35, with work already underway to prepare the first aircraft to be ready for flight tests in 2019.

The technology would offer a year-round, low cost persistent service for a wide range of needs including surveillance and vital communications to remote areas, using only the sun to power the aircraft during the day and recharge the batteries for overnight operation.

Solar HALE vehicles offer a significantly cheaper alternative to conventional satellite technology, with PHASA-35 (standing for Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft), being a concept solar electric UAV that uses proven, long life battery technology and ultra-lightweight solar cells to potentially maintain flight for up to 12 months.

The PHASA-35 concept has a 35-metre/115-foot wingspan and weighs just 150 kg/331 lbs. – its lightweight, efficient build allows it to fly at high altitudes for long periods of time.

A quarter scale model (named PHASE-8) completed a successful maiden flight in 2017, with Prismatic Ltd and BAE Systems now looking to take the technology a step further.

BAE Systems will invest in the development and flight testing of the PHASA-35 system as part of its drive to continually develop new technologies to support aircraft of the future, working collaboratively with SMEs and academia.

BAE Systems has a portfolio of patents and patent applications covering approximately 2000 inventions internationally, and under the agreement with Prismatic, it will provide expertise in aerospace technology and project management to progress the PHASA-35 programme through to a marketable offering.