"Gung ho" means "work together," and that's what Texas-based Geneva Aerospace, Inc. has got its flying robots doing. Using technology developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory with the support of the Office of Naval Research, Geneva Aerospace showed that a single human operator can control three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at once. The flight tests were conducted between January 7 and 17 of 2003 at Desert Center, California.
The culmination of research and development funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Air Vehicles Directorate, with participation by ONR's "Autonomous Operations Future Naval Capability" program, the tests showed that advanced yet affordable technologies can give a non-aviator the ability to coordinate several UAVs during a mission. The technologies include flight controls, communications, and human-system interfaces. The approach enables the UAVs to operate with variable degrees of autonomy. The project's ultimate goal is to develop an integrated system architecture that significantly reduces the logistical burden current UAVs impose on American warfighters.
Geneva Aerospace integrated its Variable Autonomy Control System (VACS) with its Dakota UAVs for the tests. VACS is an autonomous and semi-autonomous control system that uses advanced flight controls technologies to support UAV operation at various levels of control autonomy, from simplified manual control to fully autonomous mission execution. Geneva produces the variable autonomy control system and offers the system as an off-the-shelf UAV integrated flight control solution. The Dakota UAV has a 16-foot wingspan, and weighs 200 pounds at takeoff. It's manufactured at Geneva's Logan, Utah facility and used by ONR and other organizations as a testbed for autonomous operations technology demonstrations.
The demonstrations consisted of dynamically controlling three UAVs as they performed militarily relevant and representative coordinated reconnaissance and combat strike sorties. The demonstration began with the UAVs being launched by a Launch and Recovery Authority and directed to an appropriate mission hand over point. A single operator then took positive control of the UAVs and issued the necessary dynamic guidance and control commands to accomplish the representative reconnaissance/strike mission. This Mission Controller was a non-rated UAV operator. Upon completion of the representative mission, the Mission Controller directed return of the UAVs to a designated recovery point where the Launch and Recovery Authority took positive control for the UAV approach and landing phase.
ONR regards the cooperative demonstration of VACS as an important milestone in realizing its Autonomous Operations Future Naval Capability, which is working toward systems that will let robots take on some of the more dangerous jobs now done by Sailors and Marines.
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the originator of the VACS program. For information on these Air Force sponsored technologies, contact Mr. Luis Pineiro (AFRL/VACD), telephone 937-904-6523, email firstname.lastname@example.org.