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Center Innovation Fund: AFRC CIF

Air-to-Air UAV Aerial Refueling

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Air-to-Air UAV Aerial Refueling

Armstrong researchers, in cooperation with Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) demonstrated autonomous aerial refueling between two unmanned, high-altitude aircraft. NASA's two Global Hawk UAVs, one outfitted as a receiver and the other as a tanker, flew a series of demonstration flights to validate advanced UAV-to-UAV aerial refueling control system technology. The two Global Hawk aircraft successfully flew for the first time as close as 30 feet in formation. In addition, the aircraft rendezvoused and flew for  more than 2.5 hours under autonomous formation control, the majority of time within 100 feet (or one wingspan) of each other. This research effort (referred to as the KQ-X project), is a follow-on to NASA's Autonomous Aerial Refueling Demonstration (AARD) project, in which manned aircraft operating on autopilot functioned as surrogate UAVs to test flight control and optical tracking systems. Work to date: The demonstration flights occurred between January and May 2012 and achieved many milestones. The lead receiver aircraft extended and retracted its aerial refueling hose several times, completing all planned tests to validate the associated program hardware and software. In addition, the trailing tanker aircraft successfully demonstrated precision control in formation with manual and automated "breakaway" maneuvers, which are important safety features and criteria of the test program. Looking ahead: Next steps involve further tests with unmanned aircraft. The team is looking for an industry partner to advance these development efforts. Partners: DARPA, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation Benefits In-flight refueling: Allows UAVs to fulfill longer missions with longer flights Increased mission scope: Permits more flexibility in UAV use Long-term station keeping: Reduces the number of take-offs and landings to fulfill a given mission Automated refueling: Relieves pilots of burdensome flight refueling missions Applications UAV refueling Formation flight Automated manned aircraft refueling

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