Navy Wants UAV Refueling Stabilized Drogue

Feb 20, 2009
By Graham Warwick

The U.S. Navy is dusting off its interest in improving its probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method, with plans to demonstrate an actively stabilized drogue for use with unmanned aircraft.

The Navy investigated controllable drogues under fiscal 2007 small business innovation research (SBIR) contracts with Arizona Paradrogue Systems and Nielsen Engineering & Research, but did not proceed beyond Phase 1 studies.

Now the service has issued a request for information (RFI) on an actively stabilized drogue, with plans to conduct an autonomous aerial refueling demonstration in FY ’12, first with a manned F/A-18 and then the X-47B naval unmanned combat air system demonstrator.

Compared with an aerodynamically stabilized drogue, the active system would maintain position relative to the tanker and compensate for tanker-induced motion, turbulence and effects caused by airflow over the forebody of the receiver aircraft.

Prior aim

The Navy’s earlier interest was in stabilizing and controlling the drogue to increase safety and effectiveness when refueling manned and unmanned aircraft by reducing pilot workload and missed hookups, and improving operations in bad weather.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Nielsen Engineering completed Phase 1 of the SBIR contract last July, in collaboration with aerial refueling specialist Sargent Fletcher, according to Dan Peruzan, vice president of engineering. This included wind tunnel tests.

The company plans to respond to the RFI, Peruzan says. Arizona Paradrogue is also expected to respond, as is GE Aviation Systems, which has previously demonstrated a passively stabilized refueling drogue. Active stabilization concepts range from controlling the drogue shape to adding aerodynamic surfaces or thrust vectoring.

The Navy wants a drogue that will “bolt on” to the existing A42R-1 refueling pod carried by F/A-18E/Fs.

The Navy’s autonomous aerial refueling demonstration is planned as an extension of a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory program to develop a precision relative-navigation system allowing boom refueling of unmanned aircraft.

Photo: USAF

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