Fort Benning's Battle Lab tests drones with Georgia Tech

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJune 25, 2014 

The Maneuver Battle Lab at Fort Benning teamed up with the Georgia Technical Research Institute Wednesday to test an unmanned helicopter drone at the McKenna Military Operations on Urban Terrain training area.

Using a 175 pound commercial helicopter with a 10-foot rotor diameter, Georgia Tech researchers tested algorithms and sensors that enable the aircraft to perform low-altitude autonomous flight, a capability that can reduce enemy detection during combat operations.

Keith Singleton, team chief for unmanned systems at the Battle Lab, said the helicopter has the capability and maneuverability but researchers were really testing the software that allows it to see personnel, avoid obstacles and its ability to pickup materials and deliver them to soldiers in the field.

"It can take off and land by itself, go through different routes by itself," Singleton said.

In the field, the aircraft equipped with onboard navigation and guidance control systems may have a potential use on the battlefield. "It may be implemented into an actual military system," he said. "They are kind of shaking out all the bugs and making sure it works. They will continue to develop that."

Singleton noted that unmanned drones are now used for surveillance and reconnaissance. Use of the helicopter offers better capability and maneuverability that's not possible with a fixed-wing aircraft.

"It can stand there and hover over and area," Singleton said. "You can get low to the ground as opposed to a regular plane."

Resupplying soldiers in the field was used as an example to show how the technology could save lives. The unmanned helicopter may be pre-programmed to deliver supplies instead of sending a helicopter with a combat crew and pilot.

Since 2004, Georgia Tech has conducted similar testing with the Battle Lab, highlighting a partnership between the Department of Defense, Fort Benning and research institutions.

The Army's Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., sponsored the test flights that will continue through Friday at Fort Benning.

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