Boeing Demonstrates Unmanned MD530F
Boeing has conducted its first autonomous flight of an unmanned MD530F, designated "Unmanned Little Bird," as a demonstration of a system designed to show control of fully autonomous flight for helicopters in the MD530F weight class. The program was begun in October 2003 and the first flight was last Sept. 8.
Avionics for the unmanned MD530F were off-the-shelf hardware, including a Boeing-built navigational and guidance system, a Wescam MX-15 electro-optical/infrared sensor, an L-3 Communications tactical communications data link and a Boeing ground station. Boeing officials said an objective is to avoid having the military buy specialized equipment by demonstrating that off-the-shelf equipment like radar and sensors can be effective. The system is designed to provide Level 5 unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities, demonstrating autonomous flight controlled from a remote site.
The kit tested on the MD530F is designed to go on multiple types of aircraft, with the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow a possible candidate for remote control. The system also allows the helicopter to be operated either as a manned or unmanned aircraft.
Once fully developed and put into operations, the aircraft is intended to be flown in any of four configurations: piloted with the system acting as auto-pilot, totally autonomous with the mission pre-programmed into it, remotely controlled from another aircraft, or remotely controlled by a ground station using a lap top computer. The system being demonstrated is designed to be capable of performing 250 missions and navigating using up to 99 waypoints. It can also be remotely reprogrammed in flight to change its mission.
Intended missions range from reconnaissance to attack to sling load resupply. For the resupply mission, the aircraft would be preprogrammed to place a sling load at a specific point on the earth. If that spot has become occupied, to be repositioned by a ground controller. Boeing will now begin expanding the flight envelope and focus on a communications and weapons demonstrator. Weapons testing is planned at its Yuma, Ariz. test facilities.