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FORT COLLINS – Scion UAS LLC recently demonstrated autonomous takeoff and landing from a moving platform with one of its helicopter drones to help firm up the sale of two of the aircraft to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory as the company prepares for commercialization.
Only Boeing has managed the same with an unmanned aerial system that is optionally piloted, meaning the drone can be flown by a pilot or autonomously. A few others have managed the feat with completely unmanned systems.
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For the test, Scion UAS’s SA-400 Jackal drone landed on a trailer 16 feet by 20 feet that was being towed along a runway at speeds of 10 knots, or about 11.5 miles per hour.
“There’s very few companies in the world that have demonstrated similar technology,” Scion UAS co-founder Phillip Jones said Monday.
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington is buying the two SA-400 Jackal systems for use in the development and demonstration of emerging sensor systems. Jones said delivery should be made within a month, with the recent test being one of the last prerequisites of acceptance from the NRL.
But the capability to take off and land from moving objects could be useful to a variety of customers. Phillips said the Coast Guard and port authorities could launch the drones from their boats to screen incoming cargo ships. Rather than allowing the cargo ships to come to port before someone circles them with a scanner to check for nuclear material or chemical weapons, the drones could do the scans while the ships are still five miles out to sea. If the ships were carrying prohibited materials, they could be turned back before ever arriving at their destination.
Phillips said the drones could also help the Coast Guard expand its search and rescue operations.
Scion UAS’s SA-400 Jackal drones weigh about 1,200 pounds, are about 18 feet long, and are capable of carrying 500-pounds worth of fuel and cargo, including the optional pilot. The optionally piloted version sells for about $1.4 million, while a completely unmanned version goes for $1.2 million.
The company is also working on the SA 200, an unmanned version that will fit in the back of a pickup and costs about $350,000, with uses ranging from agriculture to power line and wind turbine inspections.