Athena leading UAVs into ATC

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 27, 2006, 11:24 AM

Athena Technologies’ CEO Dr. David Vos is in no doubt that after many false starts, the age of the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) really has dawned. His company has become the key element in most of the major UAV programs, including the U.S. Army’s Shadow and the USAF’s Target UAV. In addition to the programs mentioned, the company contributes flight control and navigation systems to General Atomics’ new Warrior, Italy’s Alenia Sky-X, Lockheed Martin’s new Morphing Air System, ducted fans and many more.

“Our products are quickly becoming the standard in flight controls for drones across the world,” declared Vos yesterday and he is confident that Athena’s current initiatives will enable UAVs to fly in commercial air space, side by side with manned aircraft. He is impressed by the positive attitude taken by many aviation authorities, which have recognized that for UAVs, the time really has come.

Integration of manned and unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace is one of the biggest challenges facing aviation globally and is one of the hottest subjects, Vos noted. So it is important that the U.S. Congress is holding hearings about how to do this faster and safer, while Athena is leading some of the most important work to make this happen.

“Let’s make UAVs reliable and integrate them into controlled airspace,” declared Vos. “High redundancy and automatic recovery in the event of damage will ease both civil and military operations,” he continued.

To ease the acceptance of UAVs in controlled air space, Athena has developed advanced autopilots, voice recognition for man-computer communication with air traffic control and back-up redundancy using its new revolutionary Micro GuideStar navigation system that is the size of a cigarette pack and weighs only four ounces.

Drawing on years of voice recognition research, Athena (Hall 1 Stand B16) is satisfied that potential problems of different accents and limited knowledge of English could be overcome because of the limited vocabulary used in air traffic control. Moreover, by putting many Micro GuideStars in the same aircraft, one could take over in the event of damage so that it could safely return to base.

Citing the example of the DHL Airbus A300 that was hit by a surface-to-air missile on approach to Baghdad, Vos suggested that a suitably equipped UAV could also have landed safely. “All our boxes are capable of flying airplanes,” he said and their use could make hijacking a thing of the past. With ‘boxes’ taking over from the flight deck, the aircraft could be programmed to head for the nearest airport but be prevented from penetrating areas with vulnerable buildings in cities.

While much of Athena Technologies’ business is conducted in the U.S., Vos is only too aware that the UAV age is sweeping across the world. So his company aims to expand by a process of takeovers, joint ventures or other suitable steps that would result in increased market penetration. Vos is aware that security and export controls could bar some export sales of his company’s technology but he plans to “build partnerships around the world.”

Vos notes that the United Arab Emirates is aggressively addressing the UAV opportunities in its own country but also clearly aims to be a regional center of excellence. Athena is in discussion with interested parties there but is no less active in the UK and the rest of Europe in promoting its technology to serious UAV players.

Foreseeing the time when it will be acceptable for unmanned transport aircraft to fly in controlled airspace, Vos suggests that air cargo will be the first to the market, although yes, the sky is the limit.

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