A lightweight, high performance and exceptionally robust experimental antenna that enabled a helicopter to receive imagery at ‘operationally useful ranges’ directly from a UAV - in this case a Boeing ScanEagle - has been developed by QinetiQ and was flight trialled in March at the Hebrides range, which QinetiQ operates for the MOD.
“By deploying a UAV, friendly forces can observe identified targets from a safe stand off distance and gain a valuable military advantage without compromising personnel,” explained Bill Tyack, the Air programme director at QinetiQ. “The specification for this technologically advanced, highly robust and lightweight antenna is certainly demanding. But by building on QinetiQ’s considerable knowledge in this area we were able to develop an effective, low-cost solution within only a couple of months for the MOD to evaluate. We now hope these design concepts will be taken up in a future programme.”
A key achievement of the experimental antenna, developed as part of the Phase Three, £3m MOD-funded JUEP (maritime) programme, is its combination of high gain and wide beamwidth. These two features are normally considered mutually exclusive, but both are required to receive the weak signals produced by ScanEagle’s low visibility transmitters. Mounted on the outside of a helicopter, the antenna had to withstand all types of adverse weather, being constantly buffeted by high winds, and intense vibration. These physical characteristics do not normally make for a lightweight, affordable solution - but this was an essential requirement.
“We set a tough initial specification and live flight trials in an operationally-representative environment, have shown that this experimental antenna outperforms that original requirement,” added Lt.Col Dick Park, head of the Joint Unmanned Air Vehicle Experimentation Team within the MOD. “The Hebrides trials were gruelling, but this is a rugged, serviceable, piece of equipment.”
The antenna was developed from novel designs by QinetiQ for a smart commercial antenna. It was this experience in developing airborne applications that provided the credibility for taking on such a challenging new requirement.