Vigilant Aerospace Systems, Inc. has been awarded a U.S. Air Force contract to develop a detect-and-avoid system for the Air Force’s new long-endurance drone.
The project is sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and is an SBIR Phase II project through the SBIR program.
The program seeks to bring dual-use technologies, which can help both civilian and military users, into the military, with a focus on high-impact, near-term implementations.
According to the published project description, the objective of the project is to “integrate a mature detect and avoid capability on an existing long-endurance, Group V UAS platform for increased aircraft and pilot-in-the-loop operational awareness that leverages new and evolving C-SWaP sensors and sensor fusion software.”
Utilizing Dual-Use Technologies for Military Advancement
FlightHorizon is detect-and-avoid and airspace management software that fuses data from aircraft transponders, radar, drone autopilots and live FAA data to create a single picture of the airspace around a drone.
The software displays air traffic, predicts trajectories and provides avoidance commands to the remote pilot or to an autopilot. The system can be used on the ground or onboard the UAS and can be configured for any size of aircraft.
FlightHorizon is based on two licensed NASA patents, with the company having completed contracts with NASA, the FAA and a project with the USAF’s 49th Operating Group’s MQ-9 Reaper fleet to track training flights.
It is designed to meet industry technical standards and to help UAS operators to fly beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS).
Industry Synergies and Leveraging Prior Experience
The new Air Force project leverages important prior research and development by the company in solving the automatic self-separation and collision avoidance problem for drones.
To evaluate sensors and algorithms and to establish standards-compliance and risk ratios for industry clients, the company has completed hundreds of hours of flight tests with the system and hundreds of thousands of simulated aircraft encounters inside the software’s built-in simulation engine.
Kraettli L. Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace, said; “We are especially excited about the intersection of this new project with our existing work for advanced air mobility companies developing safety systems for air taxis and larger cargo drones. All of these operations have similar needs for safety and integration and they are turning to Vigilant for solutions. We are able to bring existing technology, experience, patents, algorithms and flight tests to bear on solving the problems that they have in common.
“Standards-compliant detect and avoid is a complex threshold problem for the entire industry. Provision of automatic collision avoidance for a new generation of uncrewed aircraft systems is a critical technical gap that we are striving to fill. With both onboard and ground-based versions of our software, we can utilize new or existing infrastructure and UTM networks and provide multi-layered safety.”