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Successful Test Flights Of New Armed UAV

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by John J. Joyce,
Naval Surface Warfare Center
Dahlgren VA (AFNS) Jun 12, 2006
Test flights of the Navy-built Guardian Griffin unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in May demonstrated a new capability to support U.S. joint forces with missions ranging from convoy escort and port security to combat patrol.

Testing of the armed powered paraglider - conducted on both an Army and a naval installation - also confirmed the aeronautical and systems engineering expertise of junior engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren, Va., who designed, built and tested the UAV.

"Our young scientists and engineers learned that they can directly impact the warfighter through teaming, collaboration and thinking out of the box," said NSWC Dahlgren Division Commander Capt. Joseph McGettigan.

"Their design, construction and testing of this extraordinary combat UAV could provide our warfighters with significant new capabilities and make a difference in our military's ability to fight, win and come home safely."

The motivated engineers - all recent college graduates - collaborated in all phases of the UAV's innovative design, development, testing and evaluation. Their proof-of-concept system consisted of a modified commercial powered ultralight paraglider outfitted with optical cameras, laser designator and a simulated machine gun.

"Guardian Griffin UAVs can be launched from trucks, boats, trains, tall structures, ships and aircraft," said Tom Jean, a Guardian Griffin project mentor who is an NSWC Dahlgren Systems Research and Technology Department engineer.

"There are numerous operational concepts to explore, including organic air support for Riverine forces and air delivery. Drop delivery and control from C-130s would allow Griffins to operate as ‘fire jumpers’ delivered to the aid of combat units engaged on the ground or delivered for action against insurgent activity detected by other surveillance assets."

The Fort A.P. Hill, Va., and NSWC Dahlgren tests confirmed precision firing via the UAV’s radio-controlled gun turret. The modified para-foil ultralite design also proved to be an important technology for simplicity of control and stability of the concept UAV’s flight.

"A single operator can fly the vehicle while engaging targets on the ground," explained Jean. "Powered para-foils are very stable and demand very little of the operator's time and attention and require minimal radio frequency bandwidth for flight control. The focus can be on the mission more than on the flying. These traits make them particularly suitable for multi-unit, sustained patrol surveillance operations."

"They (NSWC junior engineers) have taken a big step towards providing a significant capability to the warfighters," said Don Burnett, System Certification and Fleet Operations Division Head at NSWC Dahlgren, after the weapons system successfully engaged a ground target from an altitude of approximately 100 feet and a range of approximately 200 feet.

"It is truly amazing what this team of junior engineers was able to accomplish," added Burnett. "They took an idea of what the system should be and turned it into reality in just a few months. The idea’s key performance parameters included being there, being aware, and being armed and ready for warfighters."

Being armed and ready for warfighters means The Guardian Griffin is well matched for guard duty around cantonments, pipelines, ships at anchor, ‘IED Alleys’ and other fixed sites and patrol routes, in addition to flying above riverine craft on patrol or coastal patrol and smuggling interdiction operations.

"To look back and see how much we accomplished over the course of six months is incredible," said junior engineer and Guardian Griffin Team Lead Ben Green. "It makes me feel great knowing that one day this unmanned air system (UAS) may help to protect our troops fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has been very exciting to work with fellow engineering school grads to design, develop and test a proof-of-concept weaponized Unmanned Air System."

The project is currently looking for sponsors interested in continuing the development of the Guardian Griffin, including construction of an engineering development model. In the meantime, more extensive testing and development will continue.

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