AFRL and Dzyne demonstrate OPV concept
The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Dzyne Technologies have completed a two-hour maiden flight of an optionally-piloted concept for manned aircraft dubbed ROBOpilot, during an August test that took place at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, US.
‘This flight test is a testament to AFRL’s ability to rapidly innovate technology from concept to application in a safe build up approach while still maintaining low cost and short timelines,’ Maj Gen William Cooley, AFRL Commander, said.
‘Imagine being able to rapidly and affordably convert a general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna or Piper, into an unmanned aerial vehicle, having it fly a mission autonomously, and then returning it back to its original manned configuration,’ Alok Das, senior scientist with AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation, added.
‘All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.’
The ROBOpilot kit interacts with an aircraft the same way as a human pilot would. The system uses sensors like GPS and an inertial measurement unit for situational awareness and information gathering, then a computer analyses these details to make decisions on how to best control the flight.
ROBOpilot is simple to install, the AFRL says: users remove the pilot’s seat and install a frame in its place, which contains all the equipment necessary to control the aircraft including actuators, electronics, cameras, power systems and a robotic arm.
Over the past year, the AFRL and Dzyne have designed, built and tested ROBOpilot, and engineers demonstrated the initial concept in a RedBird FMX simulator, which is a full motion training device.
ROBOpilot successfully completed simulated autonomous take-offs, mission navigation and landings in both nominal and off-nominal conditions in this Federal Aviation Administration-certified trainer.
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