Since in-flight refueling was shown possible, in 1923, the range of aircraft has extended considerably, and their time in the air has been also augmented by a large margin. Now, experts want to extend the same capability to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
These drones are currently incapable of performing mid-flight refueling, as the maneuvers required to do so are very intricate, and for now rely on the presence of a human operator. But researchers in the United Kingdom want to surpass this obstacle.
Experts at the University of Bristol
announce that they will soon inaugurate a Relative Motion Robotics Center of Excellence, which will deal specifically with the development of advanced technologies.
If it manages to achieve the innovations expected of it, than UAV drones could become capable of flying for days, or even weeks, without having to land. They will only return to base when they need maintenance or repairs.
Civilian, scientific and military UAV alike could benefit from this ability, experts say. The UB Center was commissioned as part of the ASTRAEA Autonomy and Decision Making project, by the Cobham Mission Equipment company.
Cobham engineers are working together with colleagues from the UB Department of Aerospace Engineering in determining the challenges that lay ahead. They are also looking for ways to surpass those obstacles, and to endow future UAV with a “brain” that can replicate a human pilot's.
“Autonomous refueling is a key component of future UAV operations, where flights for coastal and border surveillance might be required to last days or even weeks,” says UB DAE lecturer in flight mechanics Dr Tom Richardson.
“The development of this capability at Bristol University is crucial for addressing a significant issue within the evolving UAV market,” says Cobham Mission Equipment's program manager for research and technology, Mr Richard Bourne.
“It has already established stronger ties between the Company and the University which we hope to develop further and it will also deliver a flexible capability for further broad utilization by industry and academia,” the official goes on to say.
The new Center of Excellence will be a part of the UB Faculty of Engineering, and will be located at the new Advanced Composites Center for Innovation and Science (ACCIS).