The US Air Force Research Lab () is developing Automated ( ) capability for autonomous aerial vehicles under a $49 million program. This new capability will enable an unmanned air vehicle ( ) to autonomously rendezvous with a tanker aircraft and refuel.
The program has already demonstrated how a singlecould safely maneuver among seven refueling positions behind a tanker aircraft, and conduct a breakaway maneuver. Currently entering Phase II, more complex flight tests will include autonomous multiship operations and the actual delivery of fuel to a manned surrogate UAV.
To demonstrate this capability the team is integrating a network of avionic systems simulating the automatic and autonomous refueling process, utilizing multichannel Precision Global Positioning System (GPS)-based navigation system, an automated flight control system, and-specific command and control system components to accomplish boom and receptacle aerial refueling testing.
Non-GPS, sensor-based navigation measurement systems will also be tested in the program’s ‘spiral 2’ phase, facilitating support for probe and drogue refueling.
The ‘Integrator Team’ led by includes prime contractors and Aerospace Systems, plus aerospace suppliers Electronic Systems, GE Aviation, Rockwell Collins, and the Sierra Nevada Corp. As team leader, will be responsible for program execution and product delivery.