February 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 9 
Tech Talk

Enabling aircraft-UAV collaboration


J-UCAS T-33, F-15E and X-45Imagine a future where piloted fighter aircraft engaged in a dangerous mission remain miles away from a hot zone, relying upon and effectively collaborating with unmanned aerial vehicles to do the most hazardous work. If recent experiments and tests are any indication, that future may not be too far off.

Boeing research scientists, working with aerospace industry and university researchers under a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract, have been pioneers in developing new technologies to help fighter aircraft collaborate effectively with UAVs during combat missions.

"The ability of manned aircraft to collaborate with UAVs will provide new dimensions in human survivability and mission effectiveness," said Patrick Stokes, Contracted Research and Development program manager with Phantom Works' Network Centric Operations Technology Thrust.

Through experiments and flight tests at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., last summer, Boeing and its team partners demonstrated emerging technologies that will allow UAVs to autonomously avoid collisions, perform evasion maneuvers, respond to natural language commands and reroute in-flight in response to pop-up threats and faults.

For demonstration purposes, the technologies were integrated into an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter and a T-33 flying test bed, which contained a Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems avionics pallet that allowed the vehicle to operate as a UAV. The tests were conducted as part of DARPA's Software Enabled Control program, with technical direction from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

A key to the demonstrations was a Boeing-developed software infrastructure called Open Control Platform, which provided the technical framework for the embedded flight software and the new control technologies to work together.

"For Boeing, the SEC program allows us to tap into great academic minds on emerging technologies that we can integrate into our legacy and future avionics platforms, which will advance Boeing military aircraft to the next level," said Jim Paunicka, a Boeing associate technical fellow with Phantom Works' NCO Technology Thrust. "The warfighting scenarios conducted with UAVs demonstrate the relevance of advanced NCO and control technologies for future combat. We're just scratching the surface on what we can do."

Boeing team partners on DARPA's SEC program include Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, California Institute of Technology, University of Colorado, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.


How it works

A Boeing-developed transformational software infrastructure called the Open Control Platform (OCP) is providing the framework for advances in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight-control and embedded software technologies. "Our vision is to use UAVs as enablers of piloted fighter aircraft," said Jim Paunicka, a Boeing associate technical fellow with Phantom Works' Network Centric Operations Technology Thrust. "We want to maintain human control of combat missions but send UAVs into the most dangerous areas without putting humans in harm's way. OCP is a key building block in this effort."

Developed for U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, OCP provides a rich set of embedded UAV flight-software-development tools and real-time services, including support for flight-software development on Microsoft Windows- or Linux-equipped personal computers and rapid migration onto embedded flight computers. New technologies are rapidly integrated onto these tactical platforms with OCP.

OCP works by providing an open programming interface, allowing teams to control and manage UAVs from both on a piloted aircraft and remotely through network-centric-enabled communications. The interface allowed the multiple academic and industry teams to develop advanced control software for final integration by a Boeing team in simulation laboratories before progressing to live flight with the F-15E and the UAV at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. As part of this programming interface, OCP provides a graphical layout tool allowing for userfriendly flight program development.

After initial layout by the designer, OCP includes a tool that automatically generates the software code that can interconnect and trigger execution of the functional blocks, even if these blocks exist on different computers or on different vehicles.




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