Performing as a support contractor to L-3 Communications Geneva Aerospace, SEA CORP designed, built, and delivered an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) launcher for the L-3 Cutlass UAV which was successfully demonstrated at Ft Hood in Texas on June 4, 2009. In an industry first, this is the largest compressed-carriage UAV launched from the ground. Featuring folded wings in a 4.75-inch diameter launch tube, this sonobuoy-size UAV had previously only been launched from high altitude aircraft. The 13 pound weight and 33-inch-long UAV survived the required strong impulse required to propel the UAV out of the launch tube with enough exit velocity (yet minimal G-Force) to successfully transition to stabilized flight. After impulse from the launch tube, the UAV extended its wings (55 inch wingspan), rudder, and propeller, started its motor, and successfully transitioned to flight for the remainder of the mission for this demonstration as part of the Army “Hellshot” project.
As with all SEA CORP launchers developed to date, the launcher employs automotive airbag inflators as the impulse energy to propel the UAV out of the launch tube. SEA CORP designed the details of the ballistic requirements with regards to airbag inflator selection, inflator ignition timing, launch impulse pressure control, and mechanical interfaces with the launcher and the ground. The launch was controlled by the SEA CORP Launch Instrumentation & Control System (LICS), a proven instrumentation system used for developmental testing such as this demonstration. The L-3 Cutlass UAV fits inside of a launch tube very similar to an extended length Navy Sonobuoy Launch Canister (SLC).
While this demonstration application was focused on an L-3 program for the Army, SEA CORP is now exploring opportunities of similar variants where compressed carriage UAVs such as the Cutlass could be launched in a similar fashion from other platforms including Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs). The key operational advantage of the compressed carriage UAV is that a very high density of multiple UAVs can fit in a relatively small volume of space as compared to fixed wing UAVs. Using a compressed carriage UAV launching system, over 70 UAVs could easily be equipped onto an 11 Meter USV creating a relatively small remote-controlled aircraft carrier.