Raven Industries Tactical High Altitude Balloon Systems Used in Successful UAV Flight Testing

SIOUX FALLS, S.D., Dec 21, 2011 РRaven Industries Aerostar aided the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Vehicle Research Section on September 1, 2011 on achieving successful unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight tests for the Autonomous Deployment Demonstration (ADD) program. The flight demonstration series, located at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona, consisted of eight high altitude balloon releases at altitudes of up to 57,000 feet. The balloon demonstration facilitated Close-In Cover Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA) vehicles to come to rest within 15 feet from their intended landing targets.

The ADD program equipped small UAV’s with sensor payloads, launching them from balloons or aircraft. The ADD field trials successfully demonstrate that the CICADA can perform a precision delivery of a notional payload after being carried aloft by a hand-launched balloon.

“The ADD balloon support operation is very simple and well developed,” said Mike Smith, Senior Aerospace Engineer at Aerostar International. “The preflight checks, balloon inflation, launch and tracking operations can be carried out by two people in one vehicle from almost any remote location.” The balloon tracking system consists of a small radio frequency (RF) modem attached to a laptop computer.

Throughout the testing, the UAV package was lifted to altitude using hand-launched balloons manufactured and operated by Aerostar International. Aerostar’s hand-launched balloons are decades proven, tactical polyethylene balloons which can be flown in two different modes, either as a sounding balloon or as a free-floating zero pressure balloon. They are used for communications, data relay, surveillance and intelligence.

The Tempest UAV, with two CICADA vehicles attached on wing-mounted pylons, was carried aloft by the balloon up to altitudes approaching 60,000 feet. The Tempest UAV was released from the balloon, autonomously executed a pull-up maneuver, and then carried the two CICADAs to a drop location. Each CICADA vehicle was then released from the mother-ship and autonomously flew to the preprogrammed target waypoint.

“Many remote sensors are currently hand emplaced,” says Chris Bovais, NRL Vehicle Research Section Aeronautical Engineer and Flight Test Coordinator. “The CICADA allows for the low-cost delivery of multiple precision-located sensors without placing the warfighter in harm’s way.”

Aerostar’s high altitude research balloons can carry payloads from just a few pounds up to 6,000 pounds and can reach altitudes up to 45 kilometers capable of sustaining altitude for several months.

“This capability, affordably and reliably getting high-cost, high-return sensors to the edge of the atmosphere is what Aerostar has been doing for NASA since the 1960s,” said Lon Stroschein, Vice President and General Manager of Raven Aerostar. Aerostar’s tactical hand-launched balloons are an industry best value, costing only a few thousand dollars, versus other UAV platforms that may cost hundreds of thousands to do similar work. “We appreciate that NRL takes the ease of use and affordability into consideration for such missions,” Stroschein said.