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 Basic Information:




Title: Autonomous Aerial Recovery of Micro Air Vehicles

Program: STTR

Technology Area: Air Platform

Open Date: 2/19/2008

Close Date: 3/19/2008

POC Information:


Technical POC: Name: Lt Col Scott Wells



Recent military conflicts have demonstrated the effectiveness of large UAVs in performing wide field-of-view area surveillance, as well as the effectiveness of using micro air vehicles in gathering narrow field-of-view imagery. Large UAV assets do not have the option of flying below cloud cover, whereas MAV platforms are much less restricted. In addition, MAVs have the ability to get low level, detailed information, look under vertical obscuration, and operate in difficult terrain with minimal risk to human safety. However, with limited range and speed, the use of MAVs by themselves for recovery of timely information is very limited. Future ISR systems will likely be built on multi-layer sensor technology that combines the benefits of high altitude sensor platforms with low altitude, low speed, platforms. One concept of operations calls for a high altitude mothership to dispense several micro air vehicles [1]. Such a concept allows the extension of the MAVs unique data gathering capability far beyond the range of the MAVs themselves. To minimize cost, reduce the risk of MAV technology falling into enemy hands, and to facilitate refueling and redeployment, it is desirable that the MAVs be recovered at the end of the mission. Since ISR missions are often executed far from ground stations, there is a need for aerial recovery of the MAV by the mothership. A significant challenge in aerial recovery is the large discrepancy in the relative speeds of vehicles that could function as the mothership (large UAVs or manned aircraft) and speeds of MAVs. Cruise speeds for most military manned aircraft is well above 100 knots, and cruise speeds of large UAVs are on the order of 70 knots. The average airspeeds for most MAVs are 20 to 30 knots, and many MAVs are incapable of flight above 40 knots. The purpose of this program is to develop technology that will enable air-to-air recovery of a MAV by larger UAVs. This program will assume open communication links between the MAV and the mothership. Technologies that are scalable to the recovery of multiple MAVs are particularly desirable. Beyond the direct military applications, this method of recovering MAVs will be of great value in collecting information in disaster relief situations, forest fire monitoring, chemical plume detection and tracking, and for border patrol. In these applications, there is a need to obtain detailed views near ground level. In these situations, this detailed information cant be obtained from high flying assets due to the vertical obscuration of weather, trees, smoke, buildings, the clutter of damage from natural disasters, or in the case of chemical plumes, the sensor may need to be inside the plume. For these applications there is no substitute for low flying small vehicles, and the range and requirement and need for timely information mean they will require air launch from other air vehicles. The fact that the sensor suites involved may be very expensive makes the concept of vehicle recovery desirable. This combination of factors makes the concept of air recovery of MAVs from larger UAVs a technology worthy of exploration.



Develop, implement, and demonstrate technology for aerial recovery of micro air vehicles (MAVs)using larger UAVs.

Phase I: $100,000.00


Develop proof-of-concepts hardware and algorithms and determine system requirements for implementation in existing flight vehicles including weight and drag limitations. Conduct low fidelity simulations that estimate reliability of the recovery process, and potential failure modes and rates.

Phase II: $500,000.00


Implement and demonstrate the technology on scaled flight platforms using commercial off the-shelf autopilot and RC airplane technology. Conduct high fidelity simulations that estimate reliability of the recovery process, and potential failure modes and rates. The focus in Phase II will be the recovery of a MAV by a small UAV (SUAV) with speeds on the order of 70-100 knots.

Phase III $750,000.00


1. David Gross, Steve Rasmussen, Phil Chandler, Greg Feitshans, Cooperative Operations in UrbaN TERrain (COUNTER), SPIE Defense Security Symposium, 2006, p. 6249-18, Orlando, FL.


MAV, Guidance, Control, Navigation, recovery systems  


Autonomous Systems


Navigation, Guidance, and Control

Weapon Systems














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