In the Overview of Manned Multi-Mission Aviation we elaborated on what Multi-Mission operations are, the types of Multi-Mission aircraft operations, and the benefits manned aircraft bring to this aviation sector.
Here, we’ll discuss the major role Unmanned aircraft have in the Multi-Mission aviation sector – and specifically, the roles, platforms, systems, and benefits unmanned aircraft provide.
Why are Unmanned Aircraft Part of Multi-Mission Operations?
Unmanned aircraft are used for multi-mission operations because they’re no different than manned aircraft when it comes to specific services like aerial surveying, photography, advertising, force protection, and many more.
- Multi-Mission operations are civil aircraft used for specialized services outside of General Aviation and commercial air transport operations;
- An aircraft is an airplane, helicopter, or other machine capable of flight;
- Unmanned aircraft are machines capable of flight with the technical means to provide utility or service.
Therefore, over the last 20 years unmanned aircraft have become active in the Multi-Mission domains of Commercial, Public Safety, and Defense, providing specialized services in industries such as agriculture, construction, media, recreation, law enforcement, medical, training, and more.
Civil aviation authorities around the world have recognized the importance of unmanned aircraft in everyday life, regulating such operations to normalize this innovative technology concerning safety and security in support of society.
What Types of Unmanned Aircraft are Used for Multi-Mission Operations?
The types of unmanned aircraft operated, especially in the Multi-Mission sector, are fixed-wing, rotor, and Lighter-Than-Air (Airships/Blimps) with heavy use in the category of small to medium size platforms.
Unmanned aircraft and the technology associated with them bring the same flight capabilities, functionality and reliability as manned. Compared to manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft have the same engineering aspects of flight regarding airframe structure, propulsion and avionics.
The main difference is the replacement of humans in the flight experience with sensors, GPS, autonomous flight control management systems, and servo actuators. Besides unmanned aircraft having the means to fly themselves, today’s platforms can carry and control various utility payloads, systems and equipment.
When it comes to Multi-Mission operations this is essential, making unmanned aircraft a new and effective capability for this aviation sector.
What are Multi-Mission Unmanned Aircraft Missions, Platforms and Systems?
There are many different types of applications or services that fall under this aviation sector. Unmanned aircraft have and are currently complementing or expanding the availability of these services from the air.
Like manned Multi-Mission aircraft, the following are a few examples of currently established roles unmanned aircraft have entered and continue to expand in:
Civil (Commercial Providers): Monitoring & Inspecting
Aerial monitoring and inspecting operations are a method of making visual or remote-sensor assessments of transmission and distribution towers, bridges, buildings, and pipelines; or for damage assessment.
The primary end-users for this type of application or service are the engineering, construction, utility, insurance and energy industries. Because unmanned aircraft size and design can vary from micro to large high-altitude long endurance platforms, their implementation and application can vary to serve specific needs.
For example, if an end-user wants to inspect the condition of a very confined, but open space that could be hazardous for humans to inspect, a small or micro unmanned platform with sense-and-avoid and anti-collision capabilities can be deployed. The main classes of drones used are multi-rotor, fixed-wing, single-rotor helicopters, hybrid, and Lighter Than Air (LTA) designs.
The class of unmanned aircraft utilized in aerial monitoring and inspecting can vary, based on the type of sensors, propulsion, endurance and autonomy systems required. Generally, common aircraft in everyday operations for this specific industry sector are multi- and single-rotor helicopters and, in some cases, fixed wing platforms.
The preferred aircraft are multi-rotors like the DJI Inspire, Matrice Enterprise Drones, Intel/AscTec Falcon 8, Lockheed Indago 2 and the Aeryon Skyranger.
Some of the standard Aerial Monitoring and Inspection systems (in addition to the primary flight operating systems) for these platforms are:
- Sensors (Aerial zoom and thermal cameras, Electro-Optical Infra-Red (EO/IR), Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Gas detectors);
- Gyro-Stabilized Mounts;
- Flight Management, Tracking and Data Processing Software (3D Mapping, etc.); and
- Data recorders.
Public Safety (Commercial & Public Providers): Police Surveillance/Investigation
In the field of law enforcement operations, aerial police surveillance and investigation (and beyond routine aerial patrol) is the use of aircraft in support of routine criminal activity monitoring and forensic data collection.
Law enforcement organizations commonly use aircraft for crash reconstruction, crime scene processing, general investigations, tactical reconnaissance and crowd monitoring.
The lighter-than-air WASP Aerostat
Like the commercial aerial monitoring and inspecting sector, the preferred aircraft for the public safety sector tend to be the multi-rotor craft. The most used aircraft are small and light-size multi-rotors, including the DJI Inspire, DJI Matrice
Enterprise Drones, Lockheed Indago 2 and the Aeryon Skyranger.
Other types of platforms that are still on the fringe but growing in use are fixed-wing, Vertical-Take-Off-Land (VTOL) and LTAs (airships/blimps) for wide area persistence surveillance of criminal activity, or persistent monitoring of large crowds.
Just as an example, Sensefly eBee (fixed-wing), Birdseyeview FireFLY6 Pro (VTOL) and WASP Aerostat (LTA) provide platforms that satisfy this role.
Common or ancillary types of systems and equipment integrated or utilized onboard a Police surveillance and investigation aircraft include:
- Sensors (aerial zoom and thermal cameras, Electro-Optical Infrared (EO/IR), Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Gas detectors);
- Gyro-Stabilized Mounts;
- Flight Management, Tracking and Data Processing Software (3D Mapping, Augmented Reality, etc.);
- Ground base tether systems;
- Loudspeakers; and
Defense (Commercial Providers in Support of Public Contracts): Persistent Surveillance and Force Protection
Persistent surveillance emphasizes the ability of collection systems to linger on demand in an area to detect, locate, characterize, identify, track and target in near or real-time. Along with this, Force protection is the operational effort to prevent or mitigate hostile actions against military and civilian personnel, resources, facilities and critical information.
Because of the dull, dirty, and dangerous aspect of this mission, unmanned Multi-Mission operations have filled a critical need to dwell 24/7 protecting military personal and facilities in recent conflicts and monitoring geo-political porous borders and shipping lanes around the world.
The preferred aircraft for this industry sector are fixed-wing, LTA (airships/blimps), and single rotor helicopter platforms. The commonly used platforms are fixed-wing and LTA like the Insitu ScanEagle (fixed-wing), and TCOM Tactical Class aerostat systems (LTA). In the category of single rotor helicopters, you’ll see platforms like the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 and UMS SKELDAR V-200 employed.
Some of the systems integrated or utilized onboard Persistent Surveillance and Force Protection aircraft are, in many ways, the same systems used for Intelligent, Surveillance and Reconnaissance operations but with a different intent. These include:
- Sensors and Communication Receivers (Electro-Optical Infra-Red (EO/IR);
- Full Motion Video (FMV);
- Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR);
- Hyperspectral Imagery (HSI);
- Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Systems;
- Maritime Patrol Surface Search Radar;
- Mission Management Software/Hardware;
- Ground Control Stations and Launch & Recovery systems;
- LOS/BLOS Air-to-Air/Air-to-Ground Radios;
- Electronic Support Measures/Countermeasure systems; and
- Ground tethered systems
What are the Benefits of Multi-Mission Unmanned Aircraft?
Unmanned aircraft, and operations in Multi-Mission aviation have been a positive ‘Force Multiplier’.
The benefits that they bring challenges old thinking, simplifying and enlarging the scope and importance of Multi-Mission operations. The specific benefits unmanned operations bring to the third pillar of aviation are:
1) Innovative Catalyst (Challenging Others): Since the expansion of unmanned technology in aviation, the innovative spirit and thinking that came with it have spurred new and improved capabilities in the Multi-Mission arena
Even the manned Multi-Mission aircraft have benefited by leveraging the spin-off research efforts of developing new unmanned aircraft construction materials, methods and designs, avionics, power sources, sensors and more.
The continuing synergy of this unmanned technology phenomenon has/will continue to challenge all stakeholders wanting to make a difference, expand their customer base and brand their services in the Multi-Mission arena.
2) They’re Scalable (Technically Flexible, Effective & Interoperable): Because of this innovative spirit, the technology associated with Multi-Mission unmanned aircraft is scalable regarding their size, interoperability and cost per unit compared to systems 30 years ago. This scalability allows for quicker adjustment of systems with changing market needs.
Overall, this makes it easier to configure and adapt different technologies together to match the client’s requirements with the right platform, hardware or software.
3) More Options (Alternative Planning, Purchasing & Sustainment Choices): With a wide spectrum of unmanned Multi-Mission technology and product availability, there are more options to turnkey the right solution for the right job. Besides a manned aircraft option, the Multi-Mission sector can now provide an unmanned aircraft with its specialized capabilities.
For example, an unmanned aircraft could fill the need for a low, slow and narrow focused requirement while a manned aircraft can provide a high, fast and wide area operating solution.
The unmanned aircraft sector has inspired or allowed the industry to develop many usable and affordable products, which makes it easier to plan, purchase and sustain aircraft to include all the ancillary systems and equipment associated with running a Multi-Mission operation.
4) More Opportunities (New Applications & Services in the Sector): The positive force multiplier effects of unmanned innovation, scalable technology, and more product options have opened new markets that didn’t exist before, or expanded operations and services within traditional end-user industries (i.e. agriculture, land management and public safety). Consequently, there are more opportunities for stakeholders in Multi-Mission aviation to establish, expand or diversify their tradecraft.
What is the Future for Unmanned Multi-Mission Operations?
The future for unmanned Multi-Mission operations is positive and getting better. If you scan all the market reports that are published yearly, the potential market value for this sector runs in the billons.
Without question, we are going out of our way to entertain the idea of unmanned aircraft becoming an everyday part of life. However, just like manned aviation in the twentieth century, unmanned aviation has its challenges to overcome before it’s truly accepted in society. The top hurdles facing unmanned operations today include:
- Air Safety and Airspace Integration;
- Standards and Regulations;
- Privacy and Security; and
Once these are overcome, both the unmanned aircraft and the Multi-Mission sectors can maximize their potential. Ultimately, unmanned Multi-Mission aircraft operations will share the same high expectations manned aviation enjoys today.
Essentially, Multi-Mission aviation with its manned and unmanned capabilities is a ‘force-in-itself’ with its definable but diversified services, systems, deliverables and areas of growth.
Are you looking to understand how manned aircraft are used in Multi-Mission operations for the unique capabilities they bring to the third pillar of civil aviation? Read our Overview of Manned Multi-Mission Aircraft