Aerostat Communications Relay from Unmanned Surface Vehicle
Navy SBIR FY2013.1

Sol No.: Navy SBIR FY2013.1
Topic No.: N131-039
Topic Title: Aerostat Communications Relay from Unmanned Surface Vehicle
Proposal No.: N131-039-0518
Firm: Dragonfly Pictures, Inc.
PO Box 202
West End of Second Street
Essington, Pennsylvania 19029
Contact: Richard Billingslea
Phone: (610) 521-6115
Web Site:
Abstract: The CommLift Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an alternate and novel approach to providing long range, over-the-horizon, communications for surface vessels; it uses a tethered electric UAV to carry a radio payload to suitable altitude, rather than an aerostat. The tether provides power from an unmanned surface vessel (USV) to the UAV and also bi-directional communications between them. Since electric power is supplied from the surface, the UAV endurance is unlimited. The essential innovations are (1) an autonomous UAV to be tethered to takeoff, follow above, and land on, a USV, (2) to provide UAV power and communications over the tether, and (3) paired UAV autopilots (one at the surface and one on the UAV) to allow the UAV to follow USV movements and to control UAV takeoff and landing. The Phase I performance metrics are demonstration of suitable power and communications over a >525 ft. tether, tethered takeoff and landing of a multirotor UAV from a 30 knot moving vehicle and control of a high voltage brushless DC motor's speed and design of tether control system and surface based support package.
Benefits: Dragonfly Pictures, Inc. (DPI) proposes to fly the "CommLift," a small (68" tip-to-tip), lightweight (29lbs gross weight), low cost ($60k), electric powered (28v, 2.4kW ave.), tethered (525'), long endurance (~100hrs), autonomous, multirotor, lift platform to carry a communications relay payload. The platform integrates advanced brushless motors, low cost autopilots, miniaturized inertial sensors, Kevlar tether, Homeplugr communications, and high voltage controllers. The CommLift Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) has several advantages. It can fly in severe winds up to 30 kts. If needed, it can autonomously launch and recover multiple times during a deployment without human interaction. It can maintain >30 knots which will enable it to stay aloft as the Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) moves at high speeds between search locations. It is designed to launch and recover in sea state 4, while staying aloft up to sea state ~6. The ability to launch and recover further reduces the visual and other signature of the LCS and/or USV. By launching and recovering at will, the LCS Captain can use his existing radios, when and as needed. The modular mission equipment package can carry the communications relay. DPI's expertise in similar tethered VTOL UAS is directly applicable to the proposed work. Phase I will prove the feasibility of the essential communications package, aeroperformance, Surface Support System (SSS), and autopilot. The same package could be applied to commercial markets to replace cumbersome portable towers used for cell phone networks. The same platform can be used by military, forest service, or border protection units from mobile or fixed bases performing security. Variants of this platform can be used in the commercial world for tall structure inspections, aerial photography and video coverage (including security) at outdoor events. Military uses might include perimeter security around fixed bases and small ships that cannot support large manned helicopters. The US Forest Service has already expressed interest in using this as a low cost of operation alternative to manned aircraft for infrared inspections for hot spots in forest fire zones.