Honeywell’s Micro-UAV Monitors Damaged Nuclear Plant

 - May 2, 2011, 5:05 AM
Honeywell's unmanned T-Hawk has flown several disaster-remediation missions at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

Honeywell Aerospace said its unmanned T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicle has flown several missions in support of disaster-remediation efforts at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan.

Four T-Hawks adapted to carry radiation sensors were deployed to the facility in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that disabled reactor cooling systems, leading to radiation leaks. Three Honeywell employees had flown five missions and “captured hours of video and dozens of photos” of the stricken facility.

The T-Hawk is a 17-pound, vertical takeoff and landing air vehicle powered by a fixed-pitch ducted fan for lift, with moving thrust vanes for directional control. The vehicle carries interchangeable forward- and downward-looking electro-optical and infrared sensors, which can be swapped out by changing payload pods. Using a ruggedized laptop computer as the ground control station, operators can program manual or autonomous flight paths from up to six miles away for up to 40 minutes at a time.

The T-Hawk’s standoff distance and “hover and stare” capability make it valuable for hazardous duty such as the Fukushima Daiichi mission. The operator can hold the aircraft in one place, tilt the camera angle and zoom in on features inside the damaged reactors while T-Hawk sends live video and still images back to recovery workers, Honeywell said. At 14 inches in diameter, the aircraft can be flown into tight spaces inaccessible to humans and other aircraft.

The product of a 2003 Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration conducted by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, T-Hawk was tested by the U.S. Army in 2005 and fielded by the service in Iraq in 2007. Honeywell delivered the first production T-Hawks to the U.S. Navy in August 2009.

Honeywell says the T-Hawk is a “proven force multiplier” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where systems have been averaging more than six hours of flight time per day. The air vehicle is used in Afghanistan for route clearance, infantry assault and explosive ordnance disposal missions. The micro-UAV has flown more than 17,000 hours on these missions and similar missions in Iraq.

The British Army also operates T-Hawk on counter-IED missions in Afghanistan and trains with the air vehicle in Jordan. The T-Hawk is being evaluated for urban use by the Miami-Dade Police Department.