British firm develops fixed-wing UAS that can land like a bird

By Patrick C. Miller | January 05, 2017

A fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can land in small or confined spaces has been developed by BMT Defence Services in partnership with the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

The British defense contractor said the technology that enables its drone to perform a perched landing uses machine learning algorithms. The company said the development “has the potential to significantly impact intelligence-gathering and the delivery of aid in a humanitarian disaster.”

A video released by BMT shows a computer animation of a fixed wing drone using the maneuver to land on a ship’s helicopter landing pad and the aircraft performing a perch in the field to land on a designated spot. The company said it’s the first time a UAS has ever performed this type of landing with machine learning algorithms.

According to a BMT news release, the 18-month research project was delivered as part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Autonomous Systems Underpinning Research program.  BMT and Bristol University demonstrated how the combination of a morphing wing drone and machine learning can be used to generate a trajectory to perform a perched landing on the ground.

BMT said the UAS has been tested at altitude to validate the approach. The research team is working to develop a system that can perform a repeatable ground landing. 

The fixed and rigid wings of current UAS are somewhat restrictive because of reduced flexibility limiting how they can fly, BMT said. The primary goal of the company’s work is to extend the operation of current fixed wing drones by introducing morphing wing structures inspired by those found in birds. To control the complex wing structures, BMT used algorithms to learn a flight-control sequence inspired by nature.

Simon Luck, head of information services and information assurance at BMT, said, “Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at BMT and R&D projects provide us with the opportunity to work with our partners to develop cutting edge capabilities that have the potential to revolutionize the way we gather information.”