The Remotely Piloted Vehicle & Micro Satellite Research Laboratory (RMRL) led by Prof. Fei-Bin Hsiao (蕭飛賓) from Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics of National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Taiwan, built the Surveillance, Watch, Autonomous and Navigation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Swan UAV) that successfully completed its first test-flight circling Dunggang Township and Liuchiu Island of Pingtung County, a 16-km flight range, in 2005. After that, the Spoonbill Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Spoonbill UAV) built in this April successfully finished its maiden voyage to fly across Taiwan Straight to Penghu with a flight range of 92 km in the morning of October 20th, 2009. Spoonbill UAV took off at 9:25 am from salt field at Cigu Township of Tainan County, over Taiwan Strait straight to Dongji Island of Penghu County, and landed back at 10:17 am to complete its maiden voyage of 92 km with an average ground speed of 100 km/h. During this test flight, Spoonbill UAV survived itself in travelling over out of radio contact.
NCKU President, Academician Michael Ming-Chiao Lai (賴明詔), commended the great performance of the RMRL that it is not only the success of NCKU but also the pride of Taiwan. It is also an important achievement in Asia. The technology of NCKU UAV is not only the top of Taiwan, and also the best of Asia. The RMRL was established in 1985. They insisted on the development of UAV technology to the satellite links and remote control with outstanding performance and achievement.
There exist some technological advancements from Swan UAV to Spoonbill. First of all, compared with the size of Swan UAV, Spoonbill UAV is larger and measured at 2.2 m long, 3.7 m wide, and 0.9 m high. Engine of Swan UAV is arranged in Puller Engine Configuration, while Spoonbill UAV has a Pusher Engine Configuration, in which engine exhaust would not interfere with videotaping of on-board aerial camera. Second, Swan’s empennage is in a V-shape, while Spoonbill has inverted-U type of empennage that provides better aerial stability of aircraft and flight controllability. Lastly, fuel is different. Swan UAV is powered with methanol, while Spoonbill burned gasoline.
The onboard systems of the Spoonbill UAV include (1) attitude and heading reference system (AHRS) for aircraft roll, pitch and yaw angle acquisition; (2) airspeed sensor
for airspeed acquisition; (3) altimeter for altitude acquisition; (4) global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver for aircraft navigation; (5) wireless module for wireless data link between the aircraft and the ground control station (GCS); (6) onboard aviation computer that executes the automatic flight algorithm; (7) remote control module for ground pilot manual control for takeoff/landing/emergencies; (8) onboard surveillance camera that takes aerial videos/images; and (9) video transmitter that transmit onboard video to the GCS in real time.
There are nine students from RMRL and one pilot joining this test-flight. They are Mr. Woei-Leong Chan (陳偉良), Mr. Chi-Seng Lee (李志升), Mr. Ying-Chih Lai (賴盈誌), Mr. Chien-Hong Lin (林建宏), Mr. Yi-Ren Ting (丁繹仁), Mr. Chih-Hao Hu (胡志豪), Mr. Bo-Chang Chen (陳柏蒼), Mr. Chun-Chao Juang (莊竣超), Chun-Chih Chen (陳俊志), Mr. Yi Teng (鄧一) and the pilot – Mr. Bo-Fu Chen (陳寶福).
Prof. Hsiao (蕭飛賓) commented that Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (UAVS) included aerial vehicle and CGS with transmitting data by wireless communication.
Generally speaking, UAV mostly is a vehicle without any onboard staff and with high autonomy in advanced planning or half-way changeable flight schedule. GCS staffs can radio instructions to change the flight of UAV at navigation points carrying out its mandate by GCS real-time monitoring of instruction or watching the flight vehicle dynamics of the images contained in a payload carrying real-time video.
About The Remotely Piloted Vehicle & Micro Satellite Research Laboratory (RMRL):
RMRL was established in 1985 for UAVS research from Aerodynamic Design and Functional Payload Test to whole-system integrating test-flight with a series of technology in “beyond visual range” (BVR) automatic flight, ground target tracking, video transmitter and other advanced continuous innovations. Their successful work on Spoonbill UAV is not only marking a new era of aeronautics and astronautics in NCKU, but also setting a new milestone in Taiwan.
RMRL has built many aerial vehicles and finished prototype designs, such as an aircraft in conventional configuration (RX1-4), a twin fuselage Aero 2000, a high wing Thorn Bird, a joint-wing (JW-1), a highly stable Falcon-2, and airframe that has a payload of 15 kg (White Base). Moreover, their research outcomes have been successfully applied in many fields, such as aerophotography over “Salt Mountain” in Cigu salt field, vegetation area of Puli, Tainan Canal, NCKU campus and NCKU Activities of Aerospace Science and Technology Research Center (ASTRC), as well as transmission of CCD real-time images, GPS-guided aviation and so on.
After 2003, RMRL began to focus on BVR automatic flight of UAV. Swan UAV was born with these fruitful research outcomes. It integrated the past experience and technologies into a complete cost-bearable laboratory platform. Swan UAV is mainly driven by a two-axes servo mechanism with a on-board CCD camera sending instant images back to staffs at ground control station. Swan UAV completed its first BVR test-flight in July 2005 by circling Dunggang Township and Liuchiu Island of Pingtung County- a 16-km flight range. This flight certainly proved a successful integration of avionics, aviation guidance and mechanics on Swan UAV.
In 2006, RMRL added two more research projects which are Spoonbill UAV and H-LING Unmanned Helicopter (Rotary Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Spoonbill UAV is designed with built-in space and aerodynamic shape, on-board avionics to PC/104 as the core, carrying AHRS, GPS, airspeed sensor and altimeter as the navigation control for autonomous flight to analyze. All components are integrated to a UAV in 60% reduced scale for ground test before the real maiden flight. These flight tests and analysis served as an important basis of a full-size Spoonbill with wingspan of 3.5 m in design modification and production. Full-size Spoonbill UAV characterized as a lower fuel consumption but with a higher payload capability was capable of longer range and longer time BVA flight. Project on H-LING Unmanned Helicopter started to focus on autonomous hovering and image track, and then establish flight-testing and system identification. H-LING Unmanned Helicopter system also included GCS establishment and onboard optical payload development.