Royal Australian Air Force tests drone operations from airborne C-130J

A first-of-its kind trial to remotely pilot a small Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) from the back of a C-130J Hercules has taken air-land integration to new heights.

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Royal Australian Air Force tests drone operations from airborne C 130J The Sky Ranger R70 drone ready for operation from an airborne C-130J Hercules (Picture source: Leading Aircraftwoman Jacqueline Forrester)

The collaboration between Plan Jericho, No. 3 Security Forces Squadron (3SECFOR), No. 37 Squadron (37SQN) and Army has the potential to open up a range of capability options for the joint force.

The recent trial at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Edinburgh tested the viability of operating a UAS via the aircraft's onboard Satellite Communications (SATCOM) link, opening up future potential to operate UAS or other networked capabilities from anywhere in the world and vice versa, demonstrating an ability to upload live imagery from offboard sensor systems.

Squadron Leader Peter Cunningham highlighted that "this trial is the first time that airborne control UAS has been attempted from a C-130J Hercules. We used our wide-band satellite communication systems to provide a link to the UAS controller on the C-130J beyond the line of sight, and received video from the UAS throughout the flight".

Using 3SECFOR's UAS capability together with the Air Mobility Innovation C-130J aircraft meant that the team was able to conduct the trial within a very short timeframe.

"Working together with different skill sets and stakeholders such as 3SECFOR, Army and Plan Jericho has shown how we can be responsive to meet the needs of Air Force in pretty short order," Squadron Leader Cunningham said.

Corporal Mitchell Blight could see the enormous potential for Army commanders on the ground.

"With this sort of technology, we can see much further and be more distant from our targets, while still getting a comprehensive understanding of the ground in front of us through a streamlined information feed," Corporal Blight said.

Plan Jericho's Advanced Sensors lead Wing Commander Paul Hay said although still in the proof-of-concept phase, the trial got off the ground in just two weeks.

During the airborne operation, the team were also able to capture overarching video of the trial, using the Litening sensor pod, which was recently been mounted on a pylon underneath the wing of the C130J demonstrator.

This proof of concept further extends the connected sensor network, showing the potential to share greater amounts of information and improving decision making in the air and on the ground.

Wing Commander Hay said that the trial demonstrated how bringing people together with different interests and capabilities drove ground-up innovation and new capabilities across the force.