Aeroprobe sensor package improves UAV flight, endurance time

By Luke Geiver | June 11, 2015

From the mountains of Virginia, Aeroprobe is adding unmanned aircraft vehicle manufacturers and operators to its list of high-profile clients. The air measurement firm has worked with many Fortune 100 companies such as GE and Siemens, nearly every automaker and many Formula-1 race teams. Aeroprobe offers a package that includes instrumentation, a data acquisition system and a micro-computer equipped with the company’s proprietary algorithms used to turn raw air flow data into actionable information.

Nanci Hardwick, CEO of Aeroprobe, said that in the UAV industry, client needs usually fall into two categories. “Companies are either interested in having a way to collect data or they are interested in improving performance in some way,” she told UAS Magazine. Aeroprobe’s Micro Air Data System can help increase flight control and stability while also helping a UAV reach optimal fuel efficiency. The system measures many elements crucial to improving flight stability and increasing endurance, including: air speed, angle of attack and angle of side slip, all elements that can impact UAV flight. According to Hardwick, knowing the angle of attack—the angle between the platform’s reference line and the oncoming flow of air—allows an operator to optimize fuel consumption. “By knowing your precise angle of attack information you can adjust the position of your plane accordingly,” she said.

To explain the importance of having angle of attack information for an inflight UAV, Hardwick points to F-1 racing. In racing, as it is in flying, there are a set of protocols and assumptions about movements that are based on a margin of safety. “In the absence of actual information, you always have to assume the worst case scenario for operating conditions,” she said. “This is the exact reason that our F-1 clients use our probes in a race. A crosswind could actually take a car driving into a curve airborne. Without understanding not only the speed but the direction and angle of the wind, you have to assume worst case conditions and drive the slowest,” adding that, “If you understand exactly what your conditions are, you can calculate your maximum safe speed in those conditions.”

For UAV flight, the same reasoning applies, she said. If a UAV of any size mounted with the probe and micro-computer set-up can better understand the air flow around it, the UAV operator can tweak the controls for more efficient, longer flight. “Right now, everyone is trying to fit the largest amount of functionality into the smallest package. Fuel and flight times are a concern. If we can help folks see longer time on station or greater flight durations, then I think we have helped with their value proposition,” she said.

To date, the ADS system has been used in many UAS applications ranging from research to national defense operations. The micro-computer can also be equipped with a GPS and other navigation sensors. The system weighs less than 200 grams and is suitable for nearly all size fixed-wing UAVs. Multirotor manufacturers are currently in talks with Aeroprobe to outfit small rotor drones with the company’s advanced air measurement equipment. Doing so, Hardwick says, could be a challenge but could help such UAVs fly longer.

In the future, Hardwick’s team is looking to integrate other sensor information into the company’s own computer and algorithms. The team is also excited to share yet-to-released information and testing results for UAV flight performance improvement due to its ADS offerings.