Boeing Completes Autonomous Flight Control Program
According to a statement issued March 16, 2006, by Boeing, the aerospace giant and a team of university scientists have completed a successful multi-year research program to develop and demonstrate cutting edge flight control technologies that dramatically enhance the autonomous operations of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned rotorcraft.
The autonomous flight control technologies were developed under the Software Enabled Control (SEC) program sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with technical direction from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
During flight demonstrations, the last of which took place on February 23, 2006, before U.S. Department of Defense and NASA observers at Victorville, California, the SEC software assumed control of a DARPA Renegade rotorcraft UAV and successfully executed a series of advanced maneuvers, according to Boeing.
The autonomous maneuvers included flying optimal routes through a field of pop-up and already-known threats; flying low-level, terrain-hugging profiles to avoid detection; and determining safe landing zones by using vision-based algorithms to process landing site imagery and terrain height information.
The DARPA Renegade rotorcraft UAV is based on the Boeing Maverick rotorcraft UAV, which serves as the avionics test bed for the A160 Hummingbird, an unmanned helicopter that Boeing is developing for DARPA.
"Our efforts on SEC, culminating with the capstone flight demonstration on the Renegade, have allowed our Boeing team to mine the best technology from SEC and support transition to the A160 and Maverick UAVs," said Dr. James Paunicka, Boeing Phantom Works technical lead on the SEC program.