Northrop Grumman Tests Denied GPS Tech on a Bell Helicopter 407

By S.L. Fuller | October 31, 2017
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Eagle Copters Bell 407

Some tests involved a Bell Helicopter 407 equipped with infrared sensors and Australian Air Force software. Photo courtesy of Eagle Copters

Recent flight tests completed by Northrop Grumman show that military aircraft and airborne weapons systems could soon guide themselves to targets without GPS signals. According to the company, this capability could be enabled for helicopters by its new, high-speed navigational technology.

Flight demonstrations, Northrop Grumman said, showed that the company’s All Source Adaptive Fusion software could navigate aircraft “safely and precisely” to fixed and mobile locations. Tests were done in partnership with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Munitions Directorate, Englin Air Force Base and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research.


“Our absolute (fixed) and relative (mobile) navigation technologies will protect a wide range of critical U.S. military missions between ships and shore from disruption by GPS denial techniques, even in adverse weather and high sea-state conditions,” said Scott Stapp, VP of applied technology for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Called a “denied GPS” approach, the Air Force uses high-speed algorithms and hardware to generate navigational solutions from data gathered from a variety of sources including radar, electro-optical/infrared, light detection and ranging, star tracker, magnetometer, altimeter, and other signals.

Land-based flights took place at the Royal Australian Air Force’s Woomera Test range. During these tests, the air force’s software was configured in an “absolute navigation mode,” according to Northrop Grumman.

Other tests, led by Northrop Grumman, involved a Bell Helicopter 407 equipped with infrared sensors and Australian Air Force software configured in “relative, precision navigation and landing mode,” the company said. The aircraft used the software to follow a U.S. Naval Academy YP-700 ship operating in the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis, Maryland. During the flight, the air force software used data from the infrared sensor to generate estimates of the helicopter’s position, attitude and velocity relative to the ship. According to Northrop Grumman, comparison of this relative navigation data to the true trajectories of the ship and helicopter proved that the air force software could estimate the landing location of the helicopter with “extreme precision.”

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