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Sat, Jan 27, 2024

US Navy Completes UAV Testing in Arctic Circle

9-Year Campaign Comes to a Close

A nearly decade-long project involving the Naval Postgraduate School and Naval Research Laboratory has come to a close, bearing out the utility of the Platform Vanilla UAV and its own flight planning software in the Arctic North.

The collaborators integrated the NPS' flight path planning software named POTION (Path Optimization) with Platform Aerospace's Vanilla UAV, putting the combination to the test in the "daunting North Slope of Alaska, making the best of a narrow weather window." The Vanilla isn't the usual multirotor, battery hungry UAV, but a glider, requiring an intelligent, continuous series of calculations to maintain its lift and energy. Up north, heat is much harder to come by, negating the ease of lightweight UAV gliders to stay aloft. The NPS team focused on designing "energy-aware aerial flight" under the program, according to Associate Professor Vladimir Dobrokhodov.

"A glider's efficiency is quantified by its judicious energy utilization, a stark contrast to the combat efficiency metrics applied to fighter aircraft. Similar to transport planes, gliders aim to traverse vast distances with minimal fuel consumption," explained Dobrokhodov. "Over a meticulous nine-year collaboration between NPS and NRL, innovative approaches have been developed to optimize efficiency of long endurance aircraft."

The team managed to develop an energy optimal approach under the POTION effort, computing the efficiency of a stock Vanilla UAV and training a neural network in the full gamut of fuel consumption and route optimization. The end result is a glider UAV that can design a mission in the most energy-advantageous route, with time varying 3-dimensional wind data referenced from weather forecasts a week in advance.

"In the most severe arctic conditions, Vanilla demonstrated exceptional performance, achieving unprecedented milestones in its operational history. Notably, it set records for the longest duration flown by a Vanilla aircraft in Arctic environments, covered the greatest distance at these latitudes, and marked its inaugural operation utilizing Instrument Flight Rules," said Dobrokhodov. "We had so many expectations and none of them were met. Just none. Every single one was exceeded, and it was incredible. At the time when Vanilla landed, we just looked at each other knowing this took us nine years to make it happen. And now everything had finally clicked together.”



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