Gary Gray of the Georgia Tech Research Institute conducts a preflight inspection of a foreign-made unmanned aircraft system May 13 during testing at the McKenna Urban Operations Complex airstrip on Fort Benning Ga.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - Georgia Tech Research Institute officials were here May 12-13 for another peek at a foreign-made unmanned aircraft system built with off-the-shelf commercial parts.

The demonstration was designed to simulate a growing UAS threat to U.S. forces, test its capabilities for accuracy and validate the system so it can be an asset for future Army operational assessments, officials said. The Maneuver Battle Lab arranged for use of the McKenna Urban Operations Complex airstrip, and this initial evaluation phase included two other sessions on post last month.

The difficulty finding adequate facilities and restricted airspace in metro Atlanta brought the researchers south to Fort Benning, said Gary Gray of GTRI. The team has partnered with the Maneuver Battle Lab on different projects for the past two years.

“Georgia Tech does a lot of real-world research and many of the things they do benefit Soldiers overseas,” said Capt. James Collins, chief of Unmanned Systems for the Maneuver Battle Lab. “What better place for them to come than the home of the Maneuver Center.”

During a series of flights, GTRI focused on the aircraft’s auto waypoint navigation, pilot takeoff and landing, pan-tilt camera operations, autonomous still photo recovery and field maintenance. The researchers brought all their own equipment, including a mobile UAS support laboratory.

“We’re confirming the aircraft flies like we want it to, and learning about its limitations and specifications,” Gray said. “The main objective is to see how high, how long and how far it can fly.”

Cliff Eckert, a research associate with GTRI, said the systems, products and technology that went into the UAS are readily available in most local hobby shops. Citing confidentiality and operational security concerns, test officials would not say how they acquired this model or which country it came from.

“It’s important for the Army to know what these capabilities are and what threats they represent,” Eckert said. “(The Army) needs to know what’s out there and what might be employed by hostile forces. … We want to make sure we’re providing our sponsor with the best information possible regarding this UAS. It really is a good platform for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies.”

The aircraft weighs about 11 pounds with a 6-foot wingspan. The battery-operated plane has an electric motor, features a GPS and travels up to 60 mph. It can stay airborne as long as a half-hour. Without wheels, a deep stall is needed for landing.

Operators had to launch the UAS by hand when they came to Fort Benning in April.

“It was like throwing a bowling ball,” said Dave Price, a senior research technologist at GTRI.

This time, the engineers brought a four-piece “bungee launcher” they constructed back in Atlanta to assist with takeoffs.

“Providing an accurate assessment to battlefield commanders is extremely important,” Collins said. “If you don’t know anything about enemy capabilities, then you have to guess. We don’t always guess right.”

GTRI received newer versions in a recent shipment and plans to continue its evaluations in the immediate future, Eckert said. The agency works with several UAS varieties at Georgia Tech’s Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory.

“We love to come down here because of the proximity to Atlanta " it’s very convenient for us,” Eckert said. “The facilities are fantastic and the personnel we work with are fantastic.”

Price said Georgia Tech is proud of its relationship with Fort Benning.

“We’re very passionate about the support we give to our troops on the battlefield,” he said.

Page last updated Wed May 25th, 2011 at 00:00