SALINA, Kan. - Kansas State University's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office is rapidly developing expertise in critical areas leading to eventual integration of unmanned aircraft into the controlled national air space.
“We are quickly establishing the infrastructure and operational readiness for various unmanned aircraft missions,” said Kurt Barnhart, director of K-State’s Applied Aviation Research Center, which houses the UAS Program Office on the Big 12 university’s Salina campus.
With nearly $3.7 million in grants, K-State’s research projects include airspace integration, avionics and payload, collision avoidance, wireless power transfer, and developing concepts for airport wildlife mitigation.
Grant funding has permitted the UAS Program Office to develop a staff of 15 professional and support individuals. Additionally, the university recently made a number of commercial off-the-shelf equipment acquisitions in support of its mission.
The Aerosonde Mark 4.7 UAS platform from AAI, a Textron Company, is the university’s flagship unmanned vehicle for training and research. It was purchased using an Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant.
In 1998, an Aerosonde Mark 3 crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 27 hours using only 1.5 gallons of fuel. An Aerosonde Mark 4 flew 38 hours without refueling. It was also the first such aircraft to fly into the eye of a hurricane, marking a new milestone in hurricane observation.
Its payload flexibility, modularity and affordability make it an ideal choice for remote data collection and reconnaissance missions for military, civil and scientific entities. The aircraft employs a catapult system to take off from small, remote clearings and ships, and can launch from the roof of a fast-moving ground vehicle.
In addition to the Aerosonde, the university is slated to receive an APV-4 from RNR Products, a fixed-wing UAS platform, along with a comprehensive set of support equipment. This aircraft has a large payload capacity and a fixed landing gear. It will be used for airspace integration research, student training, and payload integration research.
K-State also purchased a Ground Control Station and all supporting equipment for the Wolverine III. This three-bladed electric helicopter is fully autonomous with a long endurance. It is fully automatic and can be operated with or without a ground control station. The Wolverine will be used for student training, airspace integration research, and search and rescue research in Kansas.
Flight Support Systems
TASE Duo Gimbal
The university has acquired a TASE Duo gimbal payload system and all supporting equipment and software from Cloud Cap Technology. The TASE Duo is an extremely lightweight system that houses both daylight and infrared cameras in one package, making it possible to switch back and forth as needed without requiring an aircraft to land to switch payloads. This system will be integrated with the university’s Aerosonde 4.7 and will be interchangeable on future platforms. It will be used for student training and search and rescue research.
Piccolo UAS Autopilot
K-State’s newest autopilot system ground control station and supporting software come from Cloud Cap Technology. The top of the line autopilot system can be used for fixed and rotor wing unmanned vehicles. The system is initially being integrated into the new Aerosonde 4.7.
K-State’s Applied Aviation Research Center began as a cooperative venture of K-State, Salina, the Salina Airport Authority and the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce. The center has applied for another $6 million in UAS funding. The center’s charter is to advance aerospace technology through the application of research capabilities in propulsion, airframe, avionics and aviation training.
The center’s unmanned aerial systems programs office collaborates closely with military organizations and the private sector to focus on developing unmanned flight in the National Air Space and training unmanned systems pilots and operators. K-State’s unmanned aerial system capability revolves around three key areas: operational policies and standards; advanced avionics miniaturization; and unmanned aerial vehicle education and training.
K-State is establishing criteria for unmanned aerial system flight operations, including activity at the National Guard’s nearby Smoky Hill Weapons Range and eventually at the Herington unmanned aerial system flight facility. The program office establishes policies and procedures to enable both military and civilian organizations to fly and test at local facilities.