To be ‘agile’ means to be nimble, responsive and able to adapt quickly and easily to any situation.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s premier intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance pod, the AgilePod, lived up to its moniker as it integrated seamlessly onto the Scorpion light attack ISR aircraft recently, with only a few weeks’ notice of the opportunity.
“We met with the Textron Aviation Defense Scorpion team and discussed the possibility of doing a fit check with their Scorpion platform and the AgilePod. A few days later they called and said they could get the plane to Wright-Patterson within the week. We couldn’t miss this opportunity to show the AgilePod’s capabilities on a new class of aircraft,” said Andrew Soine, an electronics systems engineer in the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.
The AgilePod is an Air Force-trademarked, multi-intelligence reconfigurable pod that enables flight-line operators to customize sensor packages based on specific mission needs. The pod takes advantage of the AFRL Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian Open Adaptable Architecture construct and Sensor Open System Architectures. Open architectures enable rapid integration of sensor technologies through standardized software and hardware interfaces that enable the pod to seamlessly integrate on platforms that use the standard architectures. This increases the number of missions the pod can augment, expanding the scope of ISR mission possibilities.
“We showed the openness of the pod by taking an aircraft with a standard set of mechanical and electrical interfaces and attaching the pod. Ultimately, we demonstrated the AgilePod’s plug-and-play ability to rapidly integrate on an open architecture platform. This is a new paradigm for ISR,” said Soine.
Built to integrate onto the Special Operations MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, this is the first time the AgilePod was fit-tested on a commercially-built manned platform.
Textron Aviation Defense’s Scorpion ISR/Attack jet is a next-generation, low cost, light attack ISR aircraft built with composite materials and standard interfaces. The industry-standard interfaces enabled the AgilePod to integrate easily on the platform, ultimately demonstrating the value of the pod’s open architecture design for Air Force mission needs.
“This is a win-win situation for the Air Force as well as industry,” said Capt. Russell Shirey, the chief engineer of the AFRL Sensors Directorate’s Advanced Projects Branch and former Blue Guardian team lead. “The AFRL Blue Guardian team has been developing rapid integration sensor technologies and standards, which are not only on the AgilePod, but are beginning to show up on aircraft as well. For the Air Force, we are augmenting efficiency by enabling aircraft operating around the globe to swap out sensors and missions right on the flight line. By removing the proprietary sensor fittings and interfaces from the field, we open competition and expand capability.”
“Just mounting the pod on the plane in the hangar shows how adaptable the AgilePod is designed to be,” said Capt. Juliana Nine, the AFRL Blue Guardian program manager. “The reconfigurability allows us to focus on different mission sets compared to the past, and we can do this with short notice.”
The benefits of open architecture and standardization are viewed favorably by industry as well.
“This really demonstrates what can be done with plug-and-play capability,” said Travis Cottrell, the vice president for Scorpion Program Management at Textron Aviation Defense. “Being able to put a lot of capability in a small package provides a value in terms of cost, from both the acquisition and operational perspective. This shows the ‘art of the possible’ when you bring commercial and military solutions to the table.”
While the day focused only on demonstrating the speed of integrating the AgilePod on a new platform with short notice, airworthiness, ground integration and communication tests need to occur before it can be tested in flight.
Nevertheless, the integration, aided by AgilePod’s Leidos contract team, was a rapid and smooth success.
“All of this came together in only a few weeks, really showing the agility of the AgilePod. It’s a winning situation all around,” said Shirey.