The Benefield Anechoic Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., tests installed radio frequency systems.
But testing in the BAF has some operational limitations: duration can be dominated by setup and calibration time; there are RF coverage limitations over the backbones of large aircraft; and dynamic antenna transmission restrictions.
Shea Watson and Aleksandr Yarovinskiy, engineers at the BAF, conceptualized and developed a prototype RF measurement unmanned aerial system to overcome these limitations with the goal of developing and deploying RF test sets as payloads.
Their idea was to develop a high-power, high-payload, tethered UAS suitable for optimized chamber operations with nearly unlimited loiter time and an operationally relevant RF payload.
The ultimate goal is an RF Measurement UAS that consists of a large quadcopter with a lifting capacity in excess of 100 lbs. They brought their proposal to the EXCITE Team and received funding to pursue their innovative idea.
This innovation project is not without risk. There is the potential for interference between the UAS flight controls and antenna measurement parameters which will require full system characterization in the mini-BAF. There is also the potential for system limitations due to UAS positioning, which has required real-time position correction utilizing the BAF’s existing laser tracker system.
Currently, the system is undergoing airworthiness review by the Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force and thrust testing for power characterization.
Future system development includes RF hardening, obstacle avoidance sensors, expansion to an Octo-configuration, complete vehicle health monitoring for fault detection, and power tether upgrades for increased payload capacity.