Scion UAS, Coast Guard complete moving takeoffs, landings

By UAS Magazine Staff | October 15, 2014

Perfecting unmanned aircraft system (UAS) moving takeoffs and landings is new territory to most aircraft users, but Scion UAS and the U.S. Coast Guard are among the entities that have completed the feat.

Scion UAS is one of the world’s first companies to successfully land a manned-capable vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft on a moving platform.

The Ft. Collins, Colorado-based company released a video of its SA-400 Jackal landing smoothly on a 16-foot-by-20-foot trailer being towed along a runway at speeds up to 10 knots (11.5 mph).

“Capabilities like this used to be limited to large defense contractors,” said Steen Mogensen, Scion UAS CEO. “We’re very proud of what our small team in Colorado has accomplished!”

More than 10 landings and takeoffs were performed, including straight-line approaches and 45-degree approaches to simulate ship-based operations. The company called it “a significant milestone toward demonstrating the ship-based takeoff and landing capabilities of the optionally piloted helicopter.”

Safety pilot Jim Sampson was on board the aircraft during the flight to ensure compliance with FAA regulations. The SA-400 Jackal is a turbine-powered VTOL aircraft designed to carry a 110-pound payload for more than four hours. The first of these aircrafts is being used by the Naval Research Laboratories to demonstrate emerging sensor systems.

“This is a major achievement which demonstrates that a small company can push the state of the art in VTOL UAS development on an austere budget,” said Al Cross, head of the NRL Vehicle Research Section. “I am very proud of what Scion UAS has accomplished today and look forward to accepting the SA-400 vehicles into the NRL research vehicle inventory.”

Researchers from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration have also been working on designing some of the first UAS to complete moving landings. 

They have been working alongside Puma AE designer AeroVironment to create the UAS that successfully completed a take-off and landing on the flight deck of Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

The UAV, which recently completed the first flight aboard a Coast Guard icebreaker, is equipped with an electro-optical and infrared camera plus illuminator on a lightweight mechanical gimbaled payload.

The Coast Guard RDC, located in New London, Connecticut, provides research and evaluation of technologies and equipment to help the Coast Guard’s abilities to carry out missions. According to the researchers, the hope for this UAS, as well as others, is to “perform monitoring and search operations in the Arctic and other areas where hazardous conditions might otherwise place human observers in increased danger.”

“The Coast Guard and its partners realize the value of exploring technologies like UAS to improve our ability to respond in the Arctic,” said Rich Hansen, RDC chief scientist. “Unmanned systems have great potential for tracking spills, so responders can avoid unnecessary risk while safeguarding our seas.”

The crew aboard the 420-foot icebreaker also conducts the Coast Guard’s traditional missions including search and rescue, environmental protection and enforcement of laws and treaties while performing their primary mission of assisting with scientific research in polar regions.