Mission Summary
20090920I1 Aircraft 43RF
COYOTE test flight Into Warning Area 174 (NW of Key West)

Aircraft Crew (43RF)
Aircraft Commander
Flight Engineer
Flight DirectorNancy Ash
Dropsonde Operator
Dropsonde Operator
Dropsonde Operator
Dropsonde Operator
Scientific Crew (43RF)
Lead Project ScientistJoe Cione
ObserverEric Uhlhorn
ObserverSylvie Lorsolo
COYOTE operatorCorcoran (BAE Systems)
COYOTE operatorOsbrink (BAE Systems)

Mission Plan :

The P-3 is tasked by HRD to carry out a COYOTE test mission over the Gulf of Mexico. The aircraft will depart MacDill AFB, FL 12:30 UTC and return to MacDill AFB, FL by 16:30 UTC.
Three Coyote UAS were brought onboard. The plan was to deploy two UAS with the third to at as a back up.

Mission Summary :

Take off Landing
MacDill AFB, FL13:30 UTC MacDill AFB, FL18:40 UTC

Takeoff: 930am local out of MacDill Air Force Base

At ~1030am local we deployed the First Coyote. The parachute did not correctly deploy and a fast fall resulted. The first UAS test release failed.

Coyote 2: BAE had problems with initialization. BAE representatives aborted this effort and they began initializing Coyote #3.

The 3rd and final Coyote launch was a success. Release time was ~1pm local. The operational plan was to fly the UAS in a 3mi x 3 mi box pattern. Coyote launch from the P-3 was at 10,000ft . Before activating the UAS' (electric) motor remotely, the Coyote had to establish 5000 ft separation with the P3. After several minutes of controlled glide descent, the Coyote was fully operational at an altitude of 5000ft. After reaching 5000ft and establishing stabilized motorized flight, the Coyote UAS then continued descent to 1000ft. The remainder of the flight consisted of repeated (up and down) controlled vertical soundings between 600-1000ft. The last 5-10 minutes of the flight included control stair-step descent from ~600ft UAS down to ~64ft.

A total of 4 GPS sondes were dropped during the 50-minute UAS test flight. The last drop occurred as the UAS was at ~100ft altitude. During the UAS mission, 5000 ft vertical separation was maintained while horizontal separation between 3-5mi was attained as the P-3 conducted spirals centered on the Coyote 3mi x 3mi boxed pattern below. (Planned) 'lost comms' checks worked well. The 50 minute duration was ~ as expected given the long pre-flight initialization that was required. In addition, the 600->1000ft ascending soundings also negatively impacted duration. (During actual missions we would likely not have upward soundings planned due to duration inefficiencies.)

Other issues/lessons learned:

  1. BAE's difficulty in attaining UAS pre-flight clearance. It was not a straightforward process. This was however a test mission and the first time BAE operated and worked with our P-3 instrumentation (which was used, in part, to compare with their independent UAS instrumentation). As such, I expect that this issue will play out as more experience/familiarity is gained.

  2. Another issue was weak P-3/UAS communications (despite 3-5mi/5000kft minimal separation in clear air). I spoke with BAE engineers about this. To them this a non-issue since gain can be greatly improved with a stronger antenna/receiver system. BAE says they already have a fix for this and this will not be an issue next time.

  3. Short battery life. As mentioned earlier, the 50minute duration will be dramatically increased once a shorter pre-flight routine is established. Reducing/eliminating 'up soundings' is also another factor that would increase duration. Finally BAE also said that increased battery power (for enhanced duration) is very possible and should not be a major issue going forward.

Overall a very successful (and exciting) inaugural P-3/Coyote launch, command and control mission.

Problems :

2 failed COYOTE launches.

Joe Cione

Mission Data :

Page last updated October 5, 2009
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