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Flight Testing of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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Systems Concepts and Integration

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Autonomous, Decision logic, Flight Test, Guidance and control, Human factors, Relative maneuvering, Test management, Test safety, UAS, Unmanned


Unmanned aircraft are forming an increasing part of the air arms of NATO members. Flight testing of such platforms presents significant challenges in the areas of test safety, air vehicle performance testing, air vehicle guidance and control testing, testing of relative maneuvering (such as aerial refueling or landing aboard ship), autonomy, test management, and human factors. The advent of highly autonomous systems and swarming with onboard decision-making logic will add to the test complexity and challenges. The recent SCI-ET-053 determined that the current AGARDogragh (AG-300-V27) is extremely out-dated, limited in detail, targeted at the small UAS and does not address critical areas such as human factors in the control station and autonomy and an updated AGARDograph was needed. This includes considerations for managing multi-shift operations, interleaving multiple tests to ensure the most from single test flight. Testers will need to verify that the autonomous decision-making logic is correct for the mission and the autonomous logic works and a correct and predictable manner. Several flight test organizations of NATO members have made progress toward developing and documenting flight test methods for unmanned aircraft.


The objective is to update the existing AGARDograph (AG-300-V27) testing unmanned aircraft systems. SCI-ET-053 identified the flight test organizations that have developed and documented flight test methods and processes for unmanned aircraft, determined the need and participation to support. Flight testing plays a significant role in the development of UAS. Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems are systems of systems, composed of various subsystems, such as the air vehicle systems, the payload and the sensors system, weapons system, the ground control system, the communication and relay system etc. Therefore, the flight testing procedures applicable to UAS and to its different classes are significantly different from flight testing of manned air systems. Although the testing purposes are the same, there are major differences in testing procedures of unmanned Air Systems. Since there is no pilot on board the aircraft in control of the vehicle, all controls are to be carried out remotely from the ground control station or carried out fully autonomously during the flight testing. The nature of remote control from a distance or autonomous control makes the flight testing of UASs, unique and totally different from testing a manned aircraft system. The testing of isolated UAS is already sufficiently complex. If you consider now the complications that would rise while testing more than one UAS and even multiple UAS in a swarm configuration, the need for particular attention for the uniqueness of the flight testing procedures, methods and regulations become self-evident. Therefore, the flight testing of unmanned systems has to be treated as a separate subject. Sharing the lessons learned and disseminating the knowledge and sharing the experience gained from Flight Testing of different UASs among NATO nations will help to improve the capabilities of new UAS under development.


Topics will include: Historical Perspectives Safety Considerations Test Team Daily Operations Test Program Management Systems Integration Laboratory and Ground Testing Taxi Testing First Flight Fixed-Wing Stability, Control, and Handling Qualities Fixed-Wing Performance Rotary-Wing Stability, Control, and Handling Qualities Rotary-Wing Performance Lighter-Than-Air Platforms Small UAV Testing Dynamic Interface Aerial Refuelling Highly Autonomous Systems Human Factors Communications Systems External Connectivity Mission Planning Systems Future Developments Potential for AGARDograph and contributing nations.

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