Re: [SystemSafety] RE : Drone Airprox Video

Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2013 09:59:46 +0200

Concerning question 1: As far as I am informed about Global Hawk, there have been very few incidents with this plane, particularly compared to smaller UAVs such as General Atomics ones. A known incident is, apparently, a wrong reaction of an operator resulting in the falling of the plane above a Nevada test range, and the loss of the plane. I would be very surprising to me that the plane would be followed by a fighter. Although this would not be absurd. In France the flights of the R20 UAVs in the 70s were allways followed by a fighter. This did not avoid an R20 getting out of control and ending its journey gliding out of fuel in a football field after having crossed one third of France followed by a mirage F1. The fact of flying twinned with a piloted aircraft could be understood as a way of trying to satisfy the see and avoid based regulations. I am however doubtful. This would never be accepted in Europe I think. EADS, Sagem and Dassault have had huge difficulties in finding test ranges for UAVS. The tests end generally over the sea in Spain and in Canada (test range withe size of France) (e.g. Barracuda from EADS), Finland, Sweden and Marocco (Dassault, Sagem) as vast areas with a very low density of population are required. No UAV, despite marketing advertisement from companies, is yet authorised to fly in non segregated airspace as far as I am aware. The technology is ahead on the regulations...

Concerning point 2: black-outs in radio links are common in UAVs. They are usually very short and there is allways (in good UAVs) a backup link. So this is transparent. The bandwith is another issue. While, normally, the control of the plane uses very little (if not nothing in full automatic mode) bandwith, it is not the case of the sensors. Just try to imagine how much VGA video you can transmit through a 128 kbits (a single satellite channel) and you imagine the problem with plenty of sensors including much more data than video. This gives you an idea of the number of satellite channels one needs to mobilise and the issues when you want to switch from one satellite to another. This also highlights the fact that any country that wants to equip itself with a fleet of MALE / HALE UAVs first needs an operational fleet of satellites all over its areas of interest, which is obviously much more expensive than the UAVs themselves. The journalists, if they wanted for once to look informed, should better dig on this aspect of the story...

The Euro/GlobalHawk story seems to me emblematic of the european UAV soap opera and of the European Defence issues. Not enough satellites, no agreement on strategy (HALE, MALE or both), competition between countries and even inside companies (EADS), non defence issues (civilian pilots fiercely oppose UAVs). All the competencies are here, the non technical aspects are managed (MIDCAS among other initiatives), but lack of vision and of control to make the actions fit in the vision.

As an anecdote, when I managed an UAV program for an european country, I used to fly in the cockpit of the Air France A320 connecting with this country capital. I used to do that because the corner of our segregated airspace area tangented the approach to the airport and I wanted to have a "live" feeling on how the pilots were taking care about what was in their neighbourood. When I explained to the pilots that small (500 kg) UAVs were (potentially as you don't fly in the corners of the cubes...) flying 500 m below them, they were totally and non rationaly scared. I could explain them that that was segregated airspace, that there were radars tracking the UAVs to check that stayed far beyond safety margins, no way. Even with military pilots. I remember to have detected once 2 helicopters in the no fly zone and asked them to go out. They refused. We then told tem that we were flying UAVs in the area and they immediately change there route to escape the area !

This gives an interesting view on the approach pilots have to unmanned vehicles which, strangely, are not that different from what is in their own Flight Control Systems !

Bertrand RICQUE
Program Manager, Optronics and Defense Division  
T +33 (0)1 58 11 96 82
M +33 (0)6 87 47 84 64
23 avenue Carnot
91300 MASSY - FRANCE  

-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Bernard Ladkin [mailto:ladkin_at_xxxxxx Sent: Thursday, June 06, 2013 2:44 PM
To: RICQUE Bertrand (SAGEM DEFENSE SECURITE) Cc: systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Subject: Re: RE : [SystemSafety] Drone Airprox Video

On 6 Jun 2013, at 12:11, Peter Bernard Ladkin <ladkin_at_xxxxxx

> There must be a lot going on behind the scenes that we don't know.

I found an article (in German) about the flight of the Demo airplane to Germany. First, it didn't fly in US airspace. It flew up the West Coast, across the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland. Second, there were two approx. 10-minute communication blackouts between pilot and aircraft, during which the UAV deviated in both course and altitude from that planned. There are also reliability issues, apparently. None of this would surprise me.

Cassidian, the main electronics supplier of the EuroHawk, are a member of the MIDCAS consortium, which addresses sense-and-avoid and of which the program runs 2013-4. Sagem (Bertrand's company) is also a member. Then there is the British ASTRAEA project.

I talked to Gerald Traufetter of Der Spiegel this lunchtime. He asked me two things which I could not address effectively. Maybe someone here has a comment (attributable or not) that I could pass on?

  1. There is a rumor that, when the Global Hawk flies in US airspace, it is accompanied constantly by chase aircraft.
  2. There is a rumor of data link reliability problems, not just with breaks as in the Demo-airplane delivery flight, but in general download, because of the bandwidth required.

PBL Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, University of Bielefeld and Causalis Limited #
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