The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has evaluated small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) from three manufacturers since launching its Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety (Raps) program in December. Lockheed Martin, AeroVironment and Honeywell have each demonstrated aircraft at the Oklahoma State University test site near Elgin, Okla., within the restricted airspace of Fort Sill.
Under the Raps program, the DHS is conducting operational tests and generating reports on the performance of small UAS for law enforcement, disaster response and firefighting applications. The reports will be made available to public safety agencies that are considering using unmanned aircraft in their operations. Last June, the federal agency selected the Oklahoma Training Center-Unmanned Systems (OTC-US) to host the flight tests. The OTC-US is a unit of University Multispectral Laboratories, a nonprofit research institution operated for Oklahoma State University by a private company. Through an agreement with Fort Sill, a U.S. Army base, it has access to 200 square miles of restricted airspace from the surface to 40,000 feet.
Kirk Kloeppel, program manager with DHS contractor Modern Technology Solutions, said 70 UAS providers responded to a request for information to participate in the Raps flight tests. About 20 were eliminated from consideration because their aircraft were either too heavy or not adequately developed. The program requires that UAS types weigh less than 25 pounds and have at least 1,000 flight hours. Kloeppel spoke at the Oklahoma UAS summit in Norman, Okla., on March 26. The state chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International hosted the conference.
Lockheed Martin participated in the first Raps test series from December 10 to 14 with its hand-launched Stalker UAS. AeroVironment demonstrated its Wasp, Puma and Raven aircraft from January 14 to 18. Honeywell flew its vertical lift T-Hawk micro air vehicle from March 11 to 15. Kloeppel said representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration observed the test process in January. The latter agency is developing a regulation to allow small UAS to fly in unrestricted airspace.
Tactical Electronics (TE), of Broken Arrow, Okla., will participate in the next test series, scheduled from April 15 to 19. The company will demonstrate its 15-pound RAPTR helicopter, which carries a gimbaled electro-optic/infrared sensor payload.
At the Oklahoma UAS summit, Ben Kimbro, TE executive vice president, said the company has both demonstrated and sold the UAS internationally. The RAPTR has been deployed in South Africa for counter-poaching and border incursion missions in Kruger National Park and in Colombia for anti-narcotics efforts. It is being offered to the Brazilian military and police for counter-terrorism support of the World Cup in 2014, which will be followed by the Summer Olympics in 2016. “We’ve run through the wickets to get RAPTR exported,” Kimbro said in reference to U.S. export controls.