Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015-06-29: Autonomy Incubator Flies Outdoors for Air Force Demo

On Friday, the Autonomy Incubator (AI) performed a tethered outdoor flight of the Hex Flyer in front of a group of officials from both NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base (LAFB). The intent of the test was to demonstrate what a typical AI outdoor flight looks like for our neighbors at the LAFB, so that they know what to expect from our future outdoor UAV flights.

Outdoor UAV flights are already strictly regulated, but when the flight in question takes place next to an extremely active military air field, some extra accommodations are clearly in order.  Because the AI plans on advancing some of their tests to outdoor conditions in the near future, this demonstration was important in that it allowed representatives from the Incubator and Langley AFB to meet and discuss the scope, frequency, and parameters of proposed future tests.  That way, when the AI wants to let the folks at LAFB know that they'd like to run outdoor flight tests, the Air Force will know exactly what that entails and be able to knowledgeably advise the AI on the matter.

The AI's resident UAV pilot, Zak Johns, took the controls for the eight-minute flight.  The Hex Flyer was positioned to take off from a concrete slab near the site of the old sled that LaRC used to use to test aircraft landing gear, in the shadow of the Gantry.

We were lucky to beat that storm brewing in the background.

After everyone retreated to a safe distance around the trailer, Zak eased the Hex off the ground and began putting it through its paces. The flight went off without a hitch; he flew the UAV back and forth across the field, then took it all the way up to the very limits of its tether 200 feet in the sky.

The Hex Flyer takes off from the concrete slab.

Can you spot the Hex in this picture? It's way up there!

After the UAV completed its maneuvers and landed, the group convened to discuss plans for the future.  Fortunately, our expert pilot and our commitment to safety made a good impression on the Air Force contingent, and it looks like the AI will be conducting outdoor tests during our future projects. Thanks to Langley AFB for coming next door to take a look at some of the amazing things the AI is doing, and for being so supportive of our research flight needs.

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