Posted: March 29, 2017 3:18 PM

Insitu Advances Payloads, Launch Options for UAVs

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — Insitu has developed a new variant of its long-serving ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a quadrotor pack to conduct vertical launch and recovery of its RQ-21 Blackjack UAV.

The Block E version of ScanEagle includes a new sensor turret — the Millimeterwave Infrared 3.5 — a new highly reliable heavy fuel engine, 210 watts of electrical power and lower cost of ownership, Don Williamson, vice president and general manager of Insitu Defense, a Boeing company, told reporters March 28.

Williamson said that more specialized payloads are flying on ScanEagle. One is a VIDAR — Visual Detection and Ranging — a new optical sensor that can measure range to a contact of interest. The camera also has 180 times the search capability of a “soda-straw view” sensor.

“It’s not a radar but is very helpful,” Williams said, noting that the VIDAR was tested last year during a demonstration off Scotland.

Another sensor innovation is Redkite, a Wide-Area Motion Image Integrator, which performs like a TiVo recorder and enables an analyst to “rewind” to relook at a contact of interest.

Insitu also has developed a way to launch the ScanEagle from a confined space without use of the pneumatic launcher. The Flying Launch and Recovery System (FLARES) is a quadcopter UAV attached to the back of a ScanEagle. The quadcopter lifts the UAV and launches it from altitude. The quadcopter then lands awaiting return of the UAV.

For recovery, the ground crew attaches a recovery line to the quadcopter, which then ascends to altitude. The UAV’s skyhook is flown into the line, which snags the UAV and lowers it to the ground. The ScanEagle and quadcopter fit into two carrying cases.

Williamson said the FLARES is being delivered soon to a customer he declined to identify.

As of this month, the Insitu UAVs had accumulated 960,000 flight hours in 118,000 sorties, including 45,000 hours in 6,080 sorties from 50 types of naval ships.

The ScanEagle has been deployed on one Coast Guard national security cutter (NSC) — USCGC Stratton — that recently completed a deployment. 

“This is the first of a two-phased acquisition effort that will be followed up by a separate solicitation to acquire sUAS [small unmanned aerial system]capabilities for the entire NSC class,” a Coast Guard spokesman said in a March 30 e-mail. “We recently released a draft RFP [request for proposals] for this second phase to industry for comment. This will be a full and open competition. We anticipate posting the solicitation before the end of the fiscal year and awarding a contract for implementing the sUAS capability for Stratton and one additional NSC (including any necessary retrofits to the cutters) in fiscal year 2018.”

Williams said the business model of Insitu’s UAV business has shifted over the last two years with the delivery of the RQ-21 to the Marine Corps, with acquisition programs covering about 60 percent and ISR services contracts covering the remainder.

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