Tennessee Space Institute chooses unique drone for research work

By Black Swift Technologies | November 22, 2017

With a legacy of delivering reliable, robust and highly accurate small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), NOAA Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division of the Air Resources Laboratory has selected Black Swift Technologies, a specialized engineering firm based in Boulder, CO, to integrate their SwiftCore Flight Management System with a UAV Factory Penguin BE UAV platform in support of a joint research project with the University of Tennessee Space Institute. Chosen for its reliability, intuitive user interface and precise autopilot capabilities, this represents the first integration of BST’s SwiftCore Flight Management System (FMS) with the Penguin BE UAV platform.

“The Penguin will enable airborne measurements of hyperspectral and thermal imaging to assess surface fluxes of sensible and latent heat,” said Steve Brooks, associate professor Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. “Yet we needed an autonomous autopilot for the aircraft capable of navigating the same flight path six times a day, ten days in a row, and you want the aircraft over the same points at the same time. Black Swift Technologies’ autopilot can very precisely control all aspects of our aircraft’s flight. We're almost getting to the point where you hook everything up, put it on a runway and it pretty much does everything on its own.”

The trademarked SwiftCore FMS enables advanced control systems. These smart control systems provide industry leading sensor-based control of the UAS that minimizes operator workload while improving the quality of the observed data by autonomously modifying the flight path based on sensor inputs.

In addition to providing the Flight Management System and the ground station to control the aircraft, Black Swift Technologies also integrated the various sensors and cameras necessary to facilitate the myriad tests conducted. The payload included a Resonon hyper spectral imaging camera and TeAx combo Infrared thermal/RGB camera.

“This is a significant integration of our SwiftCore Flight Management System with a highly-regarded third-party airframe—the Penguin BE UAV platform,” said Jack Elston, CEO of Black Swift Technologies. “The fact that both NOAA and UTIS specifically sought out our Flight Management System for this project is quite a testament to the high degree of accuracy and reliability our solutions deliver.”

Leveraging BST’s proprietary mission planning software, scientists can program the Penguin in minutes to calculate the area under review and then begin collecting data for immediate analysis and decision-making.

System training and aircraft flight tests were recently conducted in Colorado. “The overall objective was to get our team experienced flying the Penguin, and experienced using Black Swift Technologies’ autopilot, and the transitions from manual to auto control, and vice versa,” said Ed Dumas, ATDD UAS pilot. “BST’s autopilot is quite intuitive and has a nice interface. It's easy to use. Everything we've seen so far gives me confidence that the autopilot and the aircraft are a good combination. I’m excited to get to work with this system.”

Founded in 2011, Black Swift Technologies develops custom unmanned aircraft system  solutions leveraging the flight management system consisting of the SwiftPilot autopilot system, the SwiftTab tablet-based user interface, the SwiftStation ground station and application specific sensor integrations. 

Penguin BE is the electric version of the Penguin B and a perfect choice for short duration missions. Electric propulsion offers clean operation with excellent reliability and simple maintenance. The Penguin BE is a high-performance semi-integrated small UAV platform available for final assembly and customization by UAV system integrators. With a small footprint of a 3.3 meter wingspan, Penguin BE can handle up to 11.5 kg of payload weight. Modular composite structure, fast assembly, large access hatches, removable payload bay, are the key features of the Penguin BE innovative design. 

The University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) is a graduate education and research institution located in Middle Tennessee adjacent to the U. S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center. UTSI was established in 1964 as part of The University of Tennessee and has become an internationally recognized institution for graduate study and research in engineering, physics, mathematics, and aviation systems and has made remarkable contributions at the local, state, national, and global levels.

The Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is one of several field divisions of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, headquartered in College Park, MD. ATDD was originally created to develop diffusion models to track the dispersion of accidental releases of contaminants. This research led to participation in scientific campaigns investigating atmospheric flows in complex terrain and urban areas and the transport and surface exchange of nitrogen, sulfur, and mercury compounds. ATDD’s research is focused on air quality, climate and boundary-layer processes and is directed toward issues of national and global importance. Air quality research objectives include improving the understanding of air-surface exchange processes and increasing the predictive capabilities of air quality models.