Air Force Research Laboratory
ROBOpilot aircraft demonstration

Technology Converts Manned to Unmanned Air

Aug. 19, 2019
The ROBOpilot project to quickly convert from manned to unmanned aircraft was recently demonstrated by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory as part of an SBIR contract with DZYNE Technologies.

As part of a rapid development of new technology, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio teamed with DZYNE Technologies, Inc. to convert an “ordinary” manned aircraft to a robotically controlled unmanned aircraft, demonstrating their approach during an initial two-hour flight. The experimental flight, performed at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, was part of the Robotic Pilot Unmanned Conversion Program ROBOpilot. The basic idea of the technology is to quickly convert an aircraft from manned to unmanned control without losing any of the aircraft’s capabilities and features, and without compromising safety.

“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,” said Major General William Cooley, AFRL Commander. Dr. Alok Das, senior scientist with AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation, noted that it is not just a one-time conversion: “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. All of this is achieved without making permanent modifications to the aircraft.”

The noninvasive approach to the conversion operates dashboard controls on the manner of a human pilot, and uses cameras and sensors—such as GPS and inertial-measurement-unit sensors—for situational awareness. Computer analysis processes the collected data to help control the aircraft automatically. “ROBOpilot offers the benefits of unmanned operations without the complexity and upfront cost associated with the development of new unmanned vehicles,” Das said.

AFRL developed the system using a Direct to Phase II small business innovation research (SBIR) contract with DZYNE of Irvine, Calif., designing and constructing the system in just one year. The initial concept was recently demonstrated in a RedBird FMX simulator, a full motion aviation training device. ROBOpilot successfully completed simulated autonomous takeoffs, mission navigation, and landings under various operating conditions.

About the Author

Jack Browne | Technical Contributor

Jack Browne, Technical Contributor, has worked in technical publishing for over 30 years. He managed the content and production of three technical journals while at the American Institute of Physics, including Medical Physics and the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. He has been a Publisher and Editor for Penton Media, started the firm’s Wireless Symposium & Exhibition trade show in 1993, and currently serves as Technical Contributor for that company's Microwaves & RF magazine. Browne, who holds a BS in Mathematics from City College of New York and BA degrees in English and Philosophy from Fordham University, is a member of the IEEE.

Sponsored Recommendations

Wideband MMIC LNA with Bypass

June 6, 2024
Mini-Circuits’ TSY-83LN+ wideband, MMIC LNA incorporates a bypass mode feature to extend system dynamic range. This model operates from 0.4 to 8 GHz and achieves an industry leading...

Expanded Thin-Film Filter Selection

June 6, 2024
Mini-Circuits has expanded our line of thin-film filter topologies to address a wider variety of applications and requirements. Low pass and band pass architectures are available...

Mini-Circuits CEO Jin Bains Presents: The RF Engine of the 21st Century

June 6, 2024
In case you missed Jin Bains' inspiring keynote talk at the inaugural IEEE MTT-S World Microwave Congress last week, be sure to check out the session recording, now available ...

Selecting VCOs for Clock Timing Circuits A System Perspective

May 9, 2024
Clock Timing, Phase Noise and Bit Error Rate (BER) Timing is critical in digital systems, especially in electronic systems that feature high-speed data converters and high-resolution...