With the increasing deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), much research is being devoted to the additional tasks that can be performed by these drones. To allow new airborne payloads to be tested rapidly and effectively, a research team at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is developing an airborne testing capability for sensors, communications devices, and other airborne payloads. Dubbed the GTRI Airborne Unmanned Sensor System (GAUSS), this aerial test bed is based on a UAV made by Griffon Aerospace and modified by GTRI (see photo).

The hope is that the airplane itself will simply be a conveyance, eventually allowing any lightweight sensor/communication package to be mounted on it. The GTRI team has developed a modular design that allows the GAUSS platform to be reconfigured for a number of sensor types. Among the possibilities for evaluation are devices that utilize light-detection-and-ranging (LIDAR) and chemical-biological sensing technology.

A project is already underway to develop, install, and test a sensor suite that is relevant to many of GTRI’s customers. It comprises the following: a camera package; a signal-intelligence (SIGINT) package for detecting and locating ground-based emitters; and a multi-channel, X-band ground-mapping radar. To enable electronic scanning, that radar is being designed using phased-array antenna technology. It also can be programmed to transmit arbitrary waveforms. With such flexibility, the radar will be able to do ground mapping in addition to detecting and tracking objects on the ground.

The combined sensor package is lightweight enough to be carried by the GAUSS UAV. Lightweight sensors allow the use of lighter, smaller UAVs. Such drones can fly lower without being detected. Thus, they may gain more or better information by virtue of being closer to the ground.

A variant of the Griffon Outlaw ER aircraft, the GAUSS drone has a 13.6-foot wingspan and a payload capacity of roughly 40 lbs. The aircraft navigates using a high-precision Global Positioning System (GPS) combined with an inertial navigation system. It can be programmed for autonomous flight or piloted manually from the ground. The airborne mission package also includes multi-terabyte onboard data recording and a stabilized gimbal, which isolates the camera from aircraft movement.