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CHIPS Articles: 3-D printing adds savings, capability to unmanned aerial systems

3-D printing adds savings, capability to unmanned aerial systems
By AIR-1.0 Public Affairs - November 15, 2018
NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Avionics component size, weight and power needs are typical watch items for any aircraft, but make the requirements even smaller for unmanned systems, and the associated challenges become a priority worthy of a small business solution.

The PMA-209 Air Position, Navigation and Timing (AIR PNT) team is supporting a PMW/A-170 initiated Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) project aimed at equipping unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with enhancements that include modernized GPS and anti-jam capabilities.

“Manned platforms have increasing choices in capabilities to mitigate threats to GPS signals when carrying out their missions,” said Capt. Chris ‘Mini’ McDowell. “However, the smaller UAS community does not have an equal offering of choices in small size, weight and power (SWaP) anti-jam solutions for their platforms yet. Our goal is to develop those additional options as quickly as we can,” he said.

Using a recent SBIR project, a contract award was granted to a small business, Mayflower Communications Inc., to develop and test three configurations of a GPS anti-jam system using the RQ-21A UAS as a model for requirements. The first configuration, a proof-of-concept prototype, should characterize the radio frequency performance of a small antenna system, while subsequent configurations should integrate antenna and electronics solutions, with GPS receivers.

This is significant for the Group 3 UAS which has a maximum take-off weight of under 1,320 lbs., and operates below 18,000 feet.

“We’re using the 3-D printing capabilities at the Naval Air Warfare Center – Aircraft Division (NAWC-AD) sponsored Innovation Hub (iHub) to create a model,” said Jorge Otero, Air Navigation Warfare (NAVWAR) engineer leading the project and a 3-D printing class instructor. “These models are an invaluable asset in technical discussions concerning SWaP requirements, and they’ll be used as mockups for platform fit checks in the future.”

Added benefits to using organic Computer Aided Design and 3-D printing capabilities in-house are time and cost savings, he said.

“This project will allow small UAS to receive the same capabilities as their larger counterparts,” said Richard Bozovich, the AIR PNT Integrated Project Team Lead. “I’m excited to see this being developed, ultimately, this will provide Group 3 UAS platforms a path to receive a more resilient form of GPS.”

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Jorge Otero, NAVWAR engineer, supervises the creation of a 3-D printed model at the iHub.
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