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AFRL, ASC team demonstrate Black Dart technology

Zeus, one of two unmanned air vehicles completely designed and built by the AFRL and ASC team for the Black Dart exercise.

Zeus, one of two unmanned air vehicles completely designed and built by the AFRL and ASC team for the Black Dart exercise.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A joint Air Force Research Laboratory and Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) team recently designed, built, tested and demonstrated three unmanned air vehicles for a joint DoD exercise, known as Black Dart.

Black Dart, organized and conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency, NORAD and the Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Battlelab, focuses on the rapid development and implementation of UAV technology from readily-available commercial products and the integration of custom and innovative modifications into the UAVs.

Over a period of eight months, the AFRL and ASC team, comprised of 10 Junior Force personnel from AFRL's Air Vehicles, Sensors and Propulsion Directorates, ASC's Capabilities Integration Directorate, and senior advisor Lt. Col. Michael Pilkenton from the Air Vehicles Structures division, designed and built three small UAVs for the exercise. The team also received assistance from AFRL's Human Effectiveness and Munitions Directorates.

The vehicles, mostly constructed of balsa wood, each weighing less than 25 pounds, could operate autonomously to distances over seven miles, cruise at altitudes above 2,000 feet, and attain flight speeds up to 125 mph.

As part of the exercise, conducted at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, four teams were given specific technology challenges for small UAVs. The team developed UAVs that could not only fly autonomously, but also had video downlink capability and could carry various payloads.

During the exercise, the team flew two UAV aircraft, conducting approximately 25 autonomous flights. During these flights, the UAVs flew sorties up to 25 minutes at distances of up to seven miles out and seven miles back, flew low-level routes, and conducted specific waypoint-following and special missions support.

The team was the only UAV team that successfully flew all of their missions and achieved all of their exercise objectives. Of the total missions flown by all agencies during the week of testing, 95 percent were fielded by the AFRL and ASC team.

According to Colonel Pilkenton, the test was a tremendous success because it demonstrated AFRL's ability to tap into its existing resources and current base of knowledge to achieve the goal quickly. "AFRL has a very experienced small UAV development shop with resources and expertise to continue and support further UAV development," he said.