AFRL Tests Lego-Like Pod System for Reapers

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s AgilePod has commenced a series of flight tests aboard a Douglas DC-3 aircraft in preparation for integration on the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle later this year. Air Force photo/David Dixon.

The Air Force announced Friday it is flight testing its AgilePod, a first-of-its-kind, Lego-like structure allowing operators to answer various missions demands with multiple sensors on a single platform.

Essentially, the Air Force Research Laboratory-designed pod houses open and modular system architecture to allow for sensors of various designs to be added or subtracted, as the mission may have it, what’s otherwise referred to as plug-and-play capability. The flight testing is part of “Project Harvest Reaper,” and will result in integration of the AgilePod onto MQ-9 Reapers “later this year,” according to a release from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

A spokesperson for Wright-Patterson told Air Force Magazine testing will continue through the end of June. In July and August, the base will analyze the data it gathered throughout testing. On July 13, a showcase event will involve industry involvement and possible investment.

The pod is now installed on a Douglas DC-3 aircraft for testing, along with a manned, simulated MQ-9 Ground Control Station, allowing for operators to test data links. The testing involves various pod configurations, ranging from 28 to 60 inches in length and includes tests for high definition video, radar, and infrared sensing.

The project is run by AFRL’s Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team. “Open system architecture standards combined with a single AgilePod having ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities and configurations enables one pod to perform hundreds of different mission sets,” said said Capt. Russell Shirey, Blue Guardian Program Manager at the AFRL Sensors Directorate, in the release. “This is key for cost savings and increased sustainability.”

The pod is also completely government-owned, which means that as testing and configuration moves forward, and as private industry gets involved, all bidders will be able to build on the architecture and information the systems allows, with little proprietary limitations. The pod’s beneficiaries at first will be the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Air Combat Command, and Air Force Special Operations Command.

“Our goal is to ensure intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities can be more affordable and operationally flexible for the warfighter,” said Shirey. “That’s what these demonstration flights will help us achieve as we head towards the future of ISR.”