Case Study: Rockwell Collins demonstrates damage tolerant flight controls and autonomous landing capabilities

The challenge
The Joint Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (J-UCAS) program sponsored by DARPA was looking for a new approach to autonomously mitigate the effects of physical damage to aircraft in an air combat environment. J-UCAS and DARPA sought a new survivability option for the effects of an adversary's attack, an option that ideally would allow the aircraft to sustain flight and potentially continue its mission.

Damage tolerance capability is crucial for unmanned combat aircraft systems operating in extremely hazardous environments. The technology for this capability would need to provide virtually instantaneous, autonomous assessment of damage incurred, followed by an immediate response that alters the flight-control system to compensate for the effects of that damage.

The solution
Our efforts focused on airborne demonstrations of autonomous damage detection and recovery and the subsequent real-time reconfiguration of the control laws needed to maintain vehicle stability and control. These adjustments enable air vehicles to complete their missions after incurring battle damage and allow them to safely return home. Our technology is based on a unique, software-based approach to vehicle control that we developed and evolved over the past decade. Its evolutionary string of control algorithms is built on our experience with a variety of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Specifically, our solution offered:

  • Robust techniques for implementing damage tolerance and system survivability features
  • Innovative strategies for avionics redundancy management applicable to most air vehicles
  • Significant reductions in the cost to achieve first flight on new, dynamically challenging vehicles

The result
Through multiple flight demonstrations over the last four years, we have demonstrated damage tolerant flight control and autonomous landing capabilities on an unmanned subscale F/A-18.

During separate flight tests up to 80 percent of the aircraft’s right wing was ejected to simulate battle damage and in-flight failure. Our Automatic Supervisory Adaptive Control (ASAC) technology reacted to the airplane's new vehicle configuration, automatically regained baseline performance, continued to fly the plane and then autonomously landed it using internal Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS) reference only.

Story posted: January 24, 2011

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