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SNOWBIRD

DOE SBIR Phase I

 Snowbird-logo

THE PROBLEM WE’RE SOLVING

  • Scientists need regular access to atmospheric and other data in locations, such as the Arctic, which present overland or seaborne access challenges.
  • UAV’s promise regular and economical access to such areas, but small and medium Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have yet to deliver on that promise due to higher than expected operating costs and a record of poor engine reliability.
  • The expense and high risk involved in flying manned aircraft to many locations and altitudes of interest limits needed research and monitoring.
  • Small, long-endurance UAV’s have very small payloads (commonly less than 5 pounds). The expense and difficulty to miniaturize scientific sensors to fit into the limited size also is often prohibitive.
  • Many of the high performance small and medium UAS are very expensive to purchase, operate and maintain.
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What we’re doing

  • Latitude is converting a Cessna 172 aircraft to unmanned operation. The project is a Department of Energy funded Phase I SBIR to support scientific research in the Arctic. In the scope of the phase I effort, Latitude will design the system, integrate it into an aircraft, and perform a test flight.
  • Put simply, we’re installing a robot pilot where the human pilot would normally sit which minimizes the cost and time of converting the aircraft. Conveniently, it is easy to uninstall the autonomous systems and return the aircraft to manned configuration for transport to and from the location of operation (until the day that such a manned ferry flights are no longer necessary). However, when the autopilot is installed, there will be no human occupants of the aircraft.
  • Many options are available to mount payload on the aircraft, with unobstructed views (down, up, and to the side), access to clean airflow for atmospheric sensors, and large internal volumes to house equipment racks and communications gear.
  • We’re working with RDD Enterprises to install state-of-the-art de-icing equipment allowing the Cessna airframe to operate in the harshest of climates.
  • We’re utilizing a ballistic parachute from BRS to provide enhanced safety, should the worst occur.

Why our approach

  • Cessna 172 is the most produced aircraft ever. Followed closely by Piper and other Cessna models. All of which are applicable to our approach.
  • It takes advantage of world-wide support, maintenance facilities, parts, know-how, etc
  • It takes advantage of the high reliability of aviation engines.
  • It offers much more performance per dollar, compared to building a custom UAV.
  • It has low operating costs.
  • The aircraft has plenty of payload room, which means scientists can use off-the shelf equipment and don’t have to spend money re-designing payloads to fit small UAVs.
  • It is large enough to include airspace integration electronics as the future of UAV’s sharing airspace evolves.
  • It is a low-risk approach. Ferry flights of over 2400 miles and 24 hours have been performed. Not only is the endurance we’re estimating possible, it’s been done.

Estimated Performance Specs

Expected Endurance 30+ hrs No Reserve
Payload 100 lbs 45 kg At Full Endurance
Cruise Speed 140 mph 225 km/hr maximum
Stall Speed 55 mph 85 km/hr At Gross Weight
Useful Load 1500 lbs 680 kg (130% Ferry Weight)
Cost of complete unit Under $250,000, expected (ready to fly, no payload).
Crew Minimally, one. Practically, two, in shifts.
Anti-Icing Thermawing™ supplied by RDD Enterprises.
Emergency Recovery Ballistic Parachute from BRS.