Unmanned Demo Reaches New Heights

A NASA Global Hawk aircraft made a stratospheric rendezvous above southern California, meeting up with Northrop Grumman’s Proteus aircraft, the company announced Wednesday. This drill was in preparation for next year’s DARPA-sponsored attempt to mate two Global Hawks and demonstrate autonomous fuel transfer between the two remotely piloted platforms. The risk-reduction test, conducted in late January, assessed the severity of the Global Hawk’s wake turbulence on a potential receiver aircraft at rarified altitudes. It evaluated engine performance and aerodynamic responsiveness of the close formation. The two aircraft closed within 40 feet at an altitude of 45,000 feet above ground level, setting an industry record, while performing simulated refueling maneuvers. This work is occurring under the auspices of DARPA’s KQ-X program. It builds on the autonomous aerial refueling demonstration in 2006 involving a 707 probe-and-drogue tanker and an F-18 operating as a surrogate unmanned aircraft.