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Project Title:  Lightweight Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Naval Applications

Author:           Vitor Miguel Vieira Neves

Affiliation:       Portuguese Naval Academy

Project Abstract:

The project to build and test a Lightweight Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for Naval Applications was initiated in 2004/05 as a group effort of some students from the Weapons and Electronics Department of the Portuguese Naval Academy. Our aim was to have a UAV with a wingspan of approximately 1.7m, capable of being launched and recovered by a Fast Patrol Boat (FPB), and with an operational range of 15 nautical miles, with 5 minutes on station. Although I was involved from the beginning, I have developed most of my work this last year. My tasks in this project involve two distinct objectives: testing the possibility of landing a small UAV on a fast patrol boat, and developing the controller and main instrumentation bus for the autopilot.



1) Testing the landing system

            One of the main obstacles in using fixed wing UAV aboard ships is the landing system. A number of different approaches have been tested, but a simple net has proved to be the most reliable. There are two main problems in landing a UAV on a net aboard a ship. One of them is hitting the net. This can be very difficult due to the small size of the net and the ship's movements. The problem is even greater if instead of a large ship we try to use a small FPB that rocks considerably even with mild weather conditions. The other problem is that nets tend to damage the UAV due to the violence of the impact. I used a commercial airframe built in polypropylene, and ruggedized and waterproofed as much as possible all control systems, and tested the resulting UAV with radio control, both ashore and on a FPB. The results were amazingly good, and we managed to land the UAV over 30 times on a FPB. On our final trials we managed to have 100% success, landing the UAV 20 times in a row without any misses or damage.

2) Designing the main controller and instrumentation bus

            The project started by using a commercial autopilot, under which a number of successful flights were accomplished. We are now developing our own autopilot and sensor suite, and I am responsible for the instrumentation bus and main controller. After analysing different options, I decided to use the standard CAN bus as backbone for the system, and a number of “18 series" PIC microcontrollers, programmed in C and assembly language. I have already integrated the altimeter, anemometer, flux compass and GPS, and developed a “beta” version of the autopilot that enables the main PIC to control the servo-controllers of the UAV. A commercial stabilizer system (or co-pilot) system is used to control roll and pitch, so the task of the main auto-pilot is simplified considerably.



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