Air-to-Air UAV Aerial Refueling
Armstrong researchers collaborated in an effort that successfully demonstrated autonomous aerial refueling between two unmanned, high-altitude aircraft. Two Global Hawk UAVs, one outfitted as a receiver and the other as a tanker, flew a series of demonstration flights to validate advanced UAV-to-UAV aerial refueling control system technology. The two aircraft successfully flew for the first time as close as 30 feet in formation. The aircraft rendezvoused and flew for more
than 2.5 hours under autonomous formation control, the majority of time within 100 feet of each other. This research effort (referred to as the KQ-X project), is a follow-on to NASA's AARD project, in which manned aircraft operating on autopilot functioned as surrogate UAVs to test flight control and optical tracking systems.
Work to date: The demonstration flights occurred between January and May 2012 and achieved many milestones. The lead receiver aircraft completed all planned tests to validate the associated program hardware and software. The trailing tanker aircraft successfully demonstrated precision control in formation with manual and automated breakaway maneuvers.
Looking ahead: Next steps involve further tests with unmanned aircraft. The team is looking for an industry partner to advance these development efforts.
Partners: DARPA, Northrop Grumman Corp., and Sierra Nevada
In-flight refueling: Allows UAVs to fulfill longer missions with longer flights
Increased mission scope: Permits more flexibility in UAV use
Long-term station keeping: Reduces the number of takeoffs and landings to fulfill a given mission
Automated refueling: Relieves pilots of burdensome flight refueling missions
Automated manned aircraft refueling Formation flight
Efficient Aerospace Vehicle Technologies
Increasing efficiency in aerospace systems is a key goal across the spectrum of NASA operations.
Armstrong researchers are constantly striving to build efficiency into all phases of flight projects, through development, fabrication, and operations processes.
From a new wing design that could exponentially increase total aircraft efficiency to a novel test stand for single-engine electric aircraft, our researchers are finding unique solutions that increase efficiency.