Wednesday, 30 July 2014
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Flight simulator

The ASTRAEA programme has a new tool in its quest for routine, autonomous unmanned flight in UK airspace: a test rig that supports the rapid prototyping and future development of unmanned air vehicles.

ASTRAEA has a new tool to help it achieve its goal of routine, autonomous unmanned flight in UK airspace: a test rig that supports the rapid prototyping and future development of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).

The creation of the testing facility is part of the £32m ASTRAEA programme, which has been investigating the technological and regulatory feasibility of unfettered UAV flight in UK airspace.

Interconnected rigs have been created in a dedicated lab that can be used to test different configurations of UAV components – including fuel, electrical and propulsion systems – either independently or as a complete integrated system.

The rig was designed and manufactured in Warton, Lancashire, and was funded by ASTRAEA and the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA).

The facility features a number of separate sub-systems, including a propulsion rig that emulates a mock UAV engine and an engine test rig where real engines can be mounted, tested and certified for UAV use.

These are supplemented by a rig that allows for the testing of different electrical distribution layouts and a fuel test facility that physically moves to emulate wing movement, and that can simulate fuel flow between fuel tanks and the engine. All rigs are centrally controlled from a single system control and data acquisition workstation.

‘The creation of this new facility is essential in order for us to develop and test different unmanned systems quickly and effectively to the satisfaction of the Civil Aviation Authority,’ said Steve Whymark, BAE Systems programme manager for ASTRAEA. ‘The lab’s modular and highly portable design means that we can precisely test UAV systems in isolation, integrated together or in conjunction with a real air vehicle at a location of our choosing, and in doing so gain valuable insight into the solutions for different UAVs in the future.’

The rig has already been used for a number of ASTRAEA tasks. In one trial, ASTRAEA partner Cobham tested different sensor technologies and evaluated their effectiveness in accurately identifying the health of UAV systems. This involved identifying a characteristic ‘signature’ for components in good working order and a means of attributing changes to mechanical failure. Further tests will continue, the results of which will help to develop a bespoke prognostic capability for UAVs.

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