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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Key Step Made Toward UAS Refueling

A “major step forward” in demonstrating autonomous refueling between two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at high altitude has been accomplished.

Northrop Grumman announced March 9 that its Proteus test aircraft and a NASA Global Hawk flew as close as 40 feet apart at an altitude of 45,000 feet during a risk-reduction test flight Jan. 21. Participating with Northrop Grumman in the demonstration were the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, in Edwards, Calif.

DARPA’s $33 million KQ-X program will demonstrate autonomous fuel transfer between two Global Hawks, enabling flights of up to one week endurance. KQ-X follows a 2006 DARPA Autonomous Aerial Refueling Demonstration (AARD), a joint effort with NASA Dryden, which used an F-18 fighter as a surrogate unmanned aircraft to autonomously refuel through a probe and drogue from a Boeing 707 tanker.

Northrop Grumman said the January flight was key to reducing risks as the program prepares for autonomous aerial refueling of two Global Hawks in the spring of 2012. Wake turbulence between the Proteus and Global Hawk as well as engine performance and flight control responsiveness in the stratosphere were evaluated. Simulated breakaway maneuvers were also conducted.
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