Airborne Recovery Testing

By Donald DixonOctober 12, 2023

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah - One of the many reasons Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) is such a unique and invaluable resource is the amount of restricted airspace available for testing aerial systems. Together, DPG and the Utah Test and Training Range offer nearly 8,000 square miles of restricted airspace.

Near the end of September, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) used that airspace to test a retracting towline with a “smart end feature” as part of an effort to create a recovery system for small Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) while in flight. The demonstration involved a commercial towline equipped with the smart end feature integrated into a General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger UAS payload bay. After the towline was deployed, the smart end feature was able to wirelessly transmit its position back to the Avenger.

The plan is to have the smart end feature broadcast its position, allowing the smaller UAS to position themselves at the towline for recovery. “Integrating air-launched UAS from Group 5 unmanned aircraft is possible, in part, thanks to advances in relative navigation technology, complex towline analysis, and multi-aircraft control being pioneered by GA-ASI,” said Mike Atwood, Vice President of Advanced Programs at GA-ASI. After the towline is attached, the smaller UAS will fold its wings, stop its engine and transition into a passively stabled towed body.

Beyond carrying the UAS back to base, this technique could be used to refuel, recharge, and/or rearm before redeploying the UAS. GA-ASI says this could allow UAS like the Avenger to serve as mobile command centers for a network of smaller UAS.