The next step in reconnaissance drone technology will be a glider that can fly indefinitely, according to researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Marine Corps Capts. Derek Snyder and Dino Cooper, who recently graduated from the Navy school’s Systems Engineering course, may have the design that fits the bill. Reports Kevin Howie from the Monterey Country Herald.
The planned aircraft was developed as thesis projects by Snyder and Cooper. It is dubbed Project TALEUAS (Tactical Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial System) and is a glider that can be hand-launched from the ground or by using a small electric motor with a folding propeller. It will have a sensor that seeks out rising thermal air currents, and solar panels on the wings to power the electronics aboard the glider.
“It can ride thermals all day,” says Kevin Jones, a research associate professor at NPS. With solar panels installed, it could fly for days, possibly weeks, at a time.
Gliders have been flown at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles along with powered drones to test communication between the unmanned aerial vehicles and to gauge their potential uses, he said.
So far, none have solar panels, Jones said, but “solar technology is improving a lot. There are panels as thick as a piece of paper.”
These smaller platforms support a very large mission set in the DoD due to their low cost, reliability, ease of use, and the ability to field them almost anywhere.
Unfortunately, they all suffer from a major pitfall – lack of endurance. Ironically, the ease of use and reliability gained through electric propulsion is also the primary endurance constraint, due to the very low energy density of rechargeable batteries when compared to fossil fuels. Overcoming this endurance constraint by harvesting free energy in the environment and carefully optimizing the system efficiency is the primary goal of this project
Gliders developed over the last few years will be modified with newer equipment, and retuned.
The gliders will be fitted with data-logging equipment to track onboard power usage during typical flights. Data logging will include battery voltage, current draw and integrated power, and this will be synchronized with the autopilot log to track power fluctuations under normal, and auto-thermaling flight.
The end goal is a long endurance tactical SUAS (approximate size and weight of Puma AE) with dawn-to-dusk and eventually 24-7 flight capability, using only energy harvested from the environment.