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Boeing/Insitu UAV Demonstrates Next-Generation Software, Autonomy Technology

ST. LOUIS, Feb. 18, 2004 -- Boeing [NYSE:BA] and researchers from Cornell University recently demonstrated leading-edge software and autonomy technologies aboard ScanEagle, a long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). ScanEagle's demonstration flight proved a UAV can be rapidly reconfigured and its mission capabilities updated without modifying and re-validating the flight control software.

ScanEagle's two and one-half hour flight showcased the Boeing Phantom Works-developed Open Control Platform (OCP) software technology. The software is an important advancement because it enables rapid integration of new capabilities onto UAVs, allowing vehicles such as ScanEagle to better serve the tailored needs of customers and future missions.

"No other UAV ScanEagle's size currently has this auxiliary processor capability, said Dr. Jim Paunicka, Boeing's technical lead on the program. "It's a huge step forward, and this flight is a springboard for future multi-vehicle cooperative control capabilities for joint target tracking."

Cornell University developed the autonomy technology integrated onto the vehicle with a special OCP-enabled auxiliary processor.

Professor Mark Campbell, leader of Cornell's team, said the initial test verified the autonomy package could communicate with the onboard avionics and control the vehicle. "Future flights will simulate in-flight damage and test the system's ability to recover, as well as demonstrate coordinated mission activity by two vehicles," Campbell added.

Prior to the flight, ScanEagle was fitted with the auxiliary processor board housing the next-generation technology. ScanEagle, developed and built by Boeing and The Insitu Group, was designed with a removable avionics bay and two expansion slots allowing seamless payload integration. After taking off autonomously via its wedge catapult launcher, an operator on the ground flipped a switch signaling ScanEagle to move from its pre-programmed flight pattern to a set of complex autonomous maneuvers commanded by auxiliary processor software.

At the conclusion of the demonstration, ScanEagle was recovered using a "Skyhook" system, in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot-high pole. The patented system will allow ScanEagle to operate from forward fields, mobile vehicles or small sea vessels.

The technology demonstrated on the flight is being developed as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Software Enabled Control (SEC) program. The SEC program, which is investing in both next-generation UAV software and control technology, receives technical direction from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Future flights on ScanEagle, as well as other UAVs, are planned to further integrate and test the technology's advanced capabilities.

Since its first flight in 2002, three ScanEagle vehicles have completed more than 70 sorties. The ScanEagle family of vehicles will have endurance ranges from 15 to more than 40 hours. The UAV is four-feet long, has a ten-foot wingspan and flies up to 70 knots.

The Boeing team developing the OCP software technology is part of the Phantom Works Network Centric Operations organization, charged with exploring advanced control technologies for multi-vehicle control of networked autonomous vehicles.

Cornell University is one of America's leading research universities. The Dynamics and Control research group in Cornell's Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is involved in a number of autonomous control projects.

The Insitu Group, located in Bingen, Wash., develops miniature robotic aircraft for commercial and military applications.

Chicago-based Boeing is the world's leading aerospace company, and largest manufacturer of satellites, commercial jetliners, and military aircraft. The company is also a global market leader in missile defense, human space flight, and launch services.


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