Vigilant Aerospace Systems, Inc., a leading provider of multi-sensor detect-and-avoid safety solutions for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM), announced the acquisition of a contract from the US Air Force. This contract aims to develop a state-of-the-art detect-and-avoid system tailored for the Air Force’s upcoming long-endurance drone.
The project aims to enhance the operational awareness of an existing long-endurance Group V UAS by integrating an advanced detect and avoid system. This system leverages emerging C-SWaP sensors and sensor fusion software to benefit both the aircraft and the pilot, facilitating safer and more efficient operations.
“We are very excited to have been selected to develop this crucial technology for the US Air Force. We know that integration of uncrewed aircraft into the US national airspace and other civil airspace systems is critical to the advancement of the industry for both military and civilian use and that there can be no autonomy without autonomous safety and automatic collision avoidance,” said Kraettli L. Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace.
The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) sponsors the project, which is in its SBIR Phase II stage within the SBIR program. This program aims to introduce dual-use technologies, beneficial for both civilian and military applications, into the military sphere, emphasizing rapidly implementing high-impact solutions.
Harnessing Dual-Use Technologies
FlightHorizon is sophisticated detect-and-avoid and airspace management software that seamlessly consolidates information from aircraft transponders, radar systems, drone autopilots, and real-time FAA data to construct a comprehensive aerial overview around a drone. This software exhibits air traffic, anticipates flight paths, and issues avoidance directives to the remote pilot or the autopilot system. Notably, it’s adaptable for use on the ground and within the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and can be tailored to suit any aircraft’s size.
This software is built upon two NASA-patented technologies, and the company has successfully executed contracts with NASA, the FAA, and a project in collaboration with the USAF’s 49th Operating Group’s MQ-9 Reaper fleet for monitoring training flights. It is meticulously designed to align with industry-specific technical standards and enables UAS operators to conduct flights beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) with confidence and compliance.
Capitalizing on Industry Synergies and Building on Past Expertise
The Air Force’s new project builds upon the company’s previous research and development efforts to address automatic self-separation and collision avoidance challenges in drone technology. This project aligns with the company’s ongoing work in enhancing safety systems for air taxis and larger cargo drones. These operations share common requirements for safety and integration, and Vigilant Aerospace is well-positioned to provide solutions by leveraging its existing technology, expertise, patents, algorithms, and flight testing experience to address these shared challenges.
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.
“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 onboard and ground-based versions of our software, we can utilize new or existing infrastructure and UTM networks and provide multi-layered safety. We believe we have the industry’s most comprehensive approach to UAS safety and are grateful that the Air Force has engaged our expertise and technology for their next-generation aircraft,” said Epperson.
As per the solicitation, the project’s primary objective is to integrate an advanced detect and avoid capability into an existing long-endurance Group V UAS platform. This integration aims to demonstrate its practicality across various Air Force mission requirements, including those in different stages of conceptual development, even at the initial stages. The project also involves delivering interim products for evaluation by planning teams, which summarize information highlighting how mission-level outcomes, including schedule, cost, and risk, are influenced by key architectural and implementation choices. Additionally, there’s a mandate for conducting at least one flight test to assess the integrated system’s performance on the UAS, particularly in scenarios involving encounters with manned aircraft intruders.
According to the project description, “While progress in this area has focused on future civil and commercial airspace navigation, military applications support the safe transit of military UAS’s through the National Airspace (NAS) and over international waters without concern of collision with other aircraft.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: www.afresearchlab.com.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) with the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR and STTR enable small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated, and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs. For more information, visit www.sbir.gov
About Vigilant Aerospace Systems
Vigilant Aerospace is the leading developer of detect-and-avoid and airspace management software for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The company’s product, FlightHorizon, is based on two NASA patents and uses data from multiple sources to display a real-time picture of the air traffic around a UAS and to provide automatic avoidance maneuvers to prevent collisions. The software is designed to meet industry technical standards, to provide automatic safety and to allow UAS to safely fly beyond the sight of the pilot. The software has won multiple industry awards and the company has had contracts and users at NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Department of Defense and with a variety of drone development programs. Visit our website at www.VigilantAerospace.com
Post Image- Onboard radar modeling with automatic DAA in simulation mode inside FlightHorizon. (Image Credit: Vigilant Aerospace Systems)