Rockwell Collins' flight controls used in multiple UAVs this summer

WASHINGTON, 14 Aug, 2009. – The Athena 511 flight control and navigation systems from Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, landed in two unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms this summer – the Excalibur UAV from Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Va., and the CQ-10A SnowGoose Cargo UAV from Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMIST) in Ottawa, Ontario.

By John McHale

WASHINGTON, 14 Aug, 2009. – The Athena 511 flight control and navigation systems from Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, landed in two unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms this summer – the Excalibur UAV from Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Va., and the CQ-10A SnowGoose Cargo UAV from Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology (MMIST) in Ottawa, Ontario.

Rockwell made the Excalibur announcement this week at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems show in Washington.

Designing avionics systems for unmanned platforms is much less complicated than designing them for manned cockpits because it removes the complicated human machine interface, says Dr. David Vos, senior director of Unmanned Airborne Systems and Control Technologies for Rockwell Collins. Not having the human interface also cuts down on development time and costs, he adds.

The Excalibur used the Athena 511 small form factor flight control and navigation system during a flight test to autonomously take off, execute heading control test points, and land, according to a Rockwell Collins release. Additional flight tests with increasingly longer durations and more complex flight profiles are planned later this year.

"We are pleased with the performance of the system," says Dr. John Langford, chief executive officer at Aurora.

The Rockwell Collins Athena 411 will be part of the SnowGoose upgrade program, Vos says.

"The Athena 411 meets requirements for MMIST's SnowGoose upgrade program, which involves replacing the parachute wing with an auto gyro rotor head and rear stabilizing system and replacing the Airborne Guidance Unit with an improved flight control system," Vos continues.

The Athena 511 is a member of the Rockwell Collins Athena product line of flight control, inertial navigation systems, GPS, air data, attitude, heading, reference system with well over 300,000 operational flight hours.

"We integrate all systems in house," Vos says. Life cycle management and obsolescence issues are maintaining a common CPU and software system throughout the entire product line, he adds.

Some of the Athena technology is also being used in next-generation business jets for navigation and sensing, Vos notes.

The sensors are integrated into a single package designed to operate in demanding temperature, shock, and vibration environments. The compact package delivers a simpler avionics architecture and facilitates easier installation and maintenance.

The Excalibur vertical take off and landing (VTOL) UAS was developed under a contract with the U.S. Army's Aviation Technology Directorate and flight tested at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland earlier this summer. Excalibur is a revolutionary hybrid electric-powered UAS designed to carry small precision munitions to support forward deployed units requiring strike capability.

The SnowGoose autonomously delivers as much as 575 pounds of cargo to as many as six individual locations. The UAV can be ground-launched from a truck or trailer, or air-launched directly from a C-130 or C-17 aircraft.

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