Word spread last week that a rogue MQ-8B Fire Scout copter drone entered restricted airspace just 40 miles shy of Washington D.C. after losing contact with its operators. The revelation occurred smack in the middle of AVUSI 2010, the world's largest UAV tradeshow. And it served as a poignant reminder that all the game-changing technology on display here at the Denver Convention Center still has some innovating to do, especially when flight crews lose control of their unmanned craft.
But to lose control of a flying robot over a warzone is one thing; things get much more complicated in crowded domestic skies. One remarkable system, capable of bringing a plane missing most of one wing safely home, aims to make losing control a more palatable proposition.
Speaking generally about the issue of bringing UAVs into compliance with FAA rules, Lockheed Martin's Bob Ruszkowski, a Skunk Works systems engineer, said, "I think we need to rise to the challenge rather than ask for forgiveness." Then he posed a rhetorical question to underscore his point: "How many of those UAVs [in the convention center] do you see with a collision beacon? Or nav lights?"
Very few, in fact, but there were signs of such advancements.
The most dramatic evidence of technology that might clear the way for UAVs entering national air space was on display at the Rockwell Collins booth. Suspended from the rafters was a sub-scale model F/A-18 missing the better part of its right wing, which had been ditched as the plane ripped above Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground as part of a DARPA-sponsored technology demonstration this summer. But the model didn't crash.
It's sounds improbable, until you see the video:
The plane is up and away, there goes the wing, and then… nothing that your gut grasp of Newton's laws would lead you to expect: The craft shudders briefly, stabilizes, and then comes in for an astonishing, albeit a bit rough, landing. "We're not defying physics," insists Dave Vos, Rockwell Collins' senior director of control technologies and UAVs. "As long as it's physically possible to put the airplane in some configuration, attitude, velocity and orientation to recover some degree of control, we can do it."
The technology, called Damage Tolerance Control, consists of a palm-sized box stuffed with sensors and advanced algorithms that taps into a plane's existing avionics. It exploits the fact that flight control systems are exponentially more capable to counteract in-flight damage than a human pilot. With all due respect to Sully, a craft's electronics can move its flaps in configurations you could never imagine in the 2 milliseconds available to compensate. Rather than diagnosing the problem, Damage Tolerance Control reacts instantaneously and automatically when it senses a dramatic change in trajectory, adjusting an aileron, say, and cheating the nose to the left to remove drag from the intact wing to keep the craft from whipping into a death spiral. "If you step off your front porch and your leg buckles, you don't have time to diagnose it," Vos says. "You catch yourself and worry about your knee later."
The system will be tested in a UAV currently flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vos won't say which one, but according to a spokesperson for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., it's not the Predator or Reaper. If the system works as advertised, the improved survivability of mid-air damage would be a boon to the military, which under new budgetary restrictions can't afford to waste resources.
But on the civilian side, improving the reliability of UAVs with a system that automatically lands the craft if something goes wrong is a significant step toward proving that unmanned planes could one day coexist with manned ones. "Once people start believing it's possible, it's going to happen really fast," says Vos.
Stay tuned this week for an in-depth photo report from AVUSI, the drone trade show
this is exactly how I see it.
the problem with with todays UAVs is humans are in the loop to much, I know people get scared wheen they hear a UAV is Autonomous because they think there would be more Accidents when in fact its going to be quite the oppiste.
I'm not saying take the human out of the loop completely but step back and let the machine do what they do best.sure there will still be some accidents, nothings perfect after all, but with this kind of system to a uav along with a Collision avoidance system add it will be he safest thin in the sky.
I'll take that landing over what would have happened if a human pilot was at the stick
that's really impressive. I bet they would never let computers take control of a passenger jet, but if memory serves me, most of the crashes in the last year where either becuase of human error or a humans inability to recover from bad weather, etc.
The plane that just missed the runway and killed everyone. human error.
Looked more like a crash than a landing.
Good stuff. What prompted research into this potentially lifesaving innovation is even more fascinating.
On May 1, 1983 Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi safely landed his severely damaged F-15 which had lost almost the entire wing on one side in a midair collision.
On a similar note, the emergency differential thrust system now standard on all modern airliners was designed after pilot Al Haynes and his crew used the differential thrust of the engines to fly their DC-10 to a crash landing in Iowa on July 19, 1989. Many people perished, but the crew is credited with saving most of the passengers by their quick thinking.
maybe, but thats just a small plane. a full size, heavier, bigger, and with some human intervention (just real "gut instinct") would probably be prett sucessful. plus imaging if a human trued to do that. be damn hard. but hey? im sure theres a spare f4 or whatnot lying around somewhere.
plus ever see how in ww2 for example damaged planes skidded onto the carriers
We have already saw planes flying without wings ans with passengers. It is a matter of bearing at design phase.
Anyway, if you want to change your mind and get bonuses, visit www.parierenfrance.com
I've seen a video of a model being passed off as a real aircraft, a high performance sport plane, lose a whole wing and make a better landing by hobby level radio control. We know a hobby sized plane can do this but what about a global hawk, a predator with a full load, or any kind of rotary wing craft. Do they know of the ballistic parachute aircraft recovery system? How do you jettison a load off of a predator a. over enemy territory, b. over Maryland, USA? In a. the weapons must self destruct after jettison or we could see them coming back at us. In b. the weapons must not explode under any condition.
one thing i don't like about all this, is the only reason i want to get into the military, is to fly an F-22 and shoot down planes, what happens when that's taken away and replaced by drones?