L3 Valkyrie Virtual Mast

This is interesting, L3 have resurrected the ‘tethered autogyro’ concept to provide small craft with what is essentially, a camera on a very long stick, or virtual mast.

In WWII the submarine force faced a similar need as a result of them being low to water. They came up with the Focke Achgelis Fa 330, a collapsible manned autogyro.

At an altitude of about 120m the pilot could see about 40km or 22nm

L3 have taken this concept and given it a modern makeover, the Valkyrie

Making use of carbon composites and lightweight alloys it swaps a pilot for an electro-optical sensor turret with the images being relayed by a fibre optic cable that is integral to the tether.

It has been tested on a number of small craft and proven to be easy to operate and flexible, providing the crew with excellent situational awareness for zero fuel cost and a very low capital cost.

For merchant vessels, this looks ideal and for other naval vessels, a useful addition to any other embarked helicopter of unmanned systems. Obviously it is limited by the fact that the centre of its view will always be the host vessel but one could easily see these being used.

 

 

 

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Ed
Ed
March 9, 2014 1:49 pm

This does seem like a good idea in theory, and exactly mirrors what I was talking about on the Blimps article. My concern would be the use of an open rotor system, which could be very dangerous if anything went wrong! I much prefer the Israeli ETOPS, which uses an enclosed/shrouded quad rotor, which makes decapitating crew members a bit less likely!

If the payload is sufficient, then it should be possible to include a synthetic aperture radar. This would allow detection of a wide variety of targets at good ranges. This would actually be very useful for hitting smaller targets with smaller naval guns (e.g. using the DS-30 30mm against surface targets at beyond direct line of sight)…

RRTT
RRTT
March 9, 2014 3:05 pm

Hi, im an autogyro pilot with 2000 hrs on the 2 seat magni M16 (see http://www.magnigyro.com). This idea above can scale up much more – if you swap a pilot for payload, you have 100 kg. A powered (remote control via fibre optic link) version based on a 2 seat autogyro platform (not much bigger) can fly at 8’000 feet for up to 7 hours if you swap rear passenger for a auxillary tank . Cheap, simple and proven COTS platform at GBP 50k a pop. Put that field of view with a decent sensor turret and you have a nice edge on land or sea, mid course guidance or target designation for anything you want….
Whats not to like….

S.O.
S.O.
March 9, 2014 3:25 pm

“Whats not to like….”

You need to make sure that no aircraft collide with it or cut the tether, for example. This means LED lights and/or flags along the tether in peacetime. And 7k ft is a no go for this reason. And helicopter operations flight safety may be questioned.

An electronic payload (such as a radar with several kW output) will require insulated copper wires in addition to the mechanical tether.

I thought about a tethered autogyro as well (for rather moderate altitudes; horizon search radar and ESM), but I suppose there are technical/tactical reasons against it, for otherwise it would likely have been introduced long ago.

dgos
dgos
March 9, 2014 3:57 pm

As per tethered lighter than air craft could be flown off remotely controlled parasitic vessel some distance from major vessel thus not giving away position of host.

Chris
Editor
Chris
March 9, 2014 3:59 pm

The concept is fine, although I think it might be a bit over-engineered (I would go with a towed aerostat with integral sail wings to increase the range of weather conditions it can fly in). The autogiro can fly off beam though.

I think a mistake many make is to think of all of the problems, as S O does above. Put this (or better, an aerostat) onto an unmanned surface vessel well up threat, and the majority of airspace deconfliction issues disappear.

So long as you don’t try to over-engineer or complicate the CONOPS, these things can be remarkably cheap ISTAR and Comms multipliers.

As for the purely commercial angle, interesting. Scan Eagle started out as a means of finding shoals of tuna. Tethered low cost surveillance has lots of uses, especially in pirate waters or for fishing.

jonesy
jonesy
March 9, 2014 4:10 pm

Whats not to like…for something fighty effectively you are lofting an angle reflector, right overhead your ship, to an altitude where an active radar will pick it up at extended range. Not sure thats a worthwhile trade for a lightweight EO payload?.

For an OPV doing, MSO, SAR or fisheries patrol it may be useful though. Clearly a cheaper solution than something like an S100 or Skeldar but those are pretty cheap for what they are, a lot more flexible…and are already finding places on OPVs despite the higher costs.

x
x
March 9, 2014 5:15 pm

When working with a SAR helicopter you told under no circumstance secure a line from the helicopter to the vessel. Not saying this won’t work but it makes me feel a bit uneasy. I will have to do more reading and thinking.

As Sven said if this it to be powered from the vessel then it will require metres of cable. Very heavy cable.

Ed
Ed
March 9, 2014 6:19 pm

A better bet for more ‘fighty’ roles would be to take the Israeli ETOPS system, and stick it on a RHIB (e.g. the American Fleet class USV). This way, you can get a good deal of overwatch at distance, enabling you to watch over boarding parties, when you’d not be able to justify having a helo overhead. Look back at the incident a few years back when the Iranians snatched the boarding party, having an ETOPS overhead would have provided a lot more warning time. If you can get an extra ten or twenty minutes warning, you have far more chance of avoiding the confrontation. Equally, if you could stick a few USVs with these tethered near the beach during a landing, and you get a birds eye view, and ability to lase targets for NGS, attack helos etc…

IXION
March 9, 2014 6:25 pm

I have mentioned before my great uncles that worked on airships..

One of my actual uncles was killed in an auto gyro crash. When landing, wind picked it up and smashed it into a hanger. Not sure if I want to be around one of these things on a bouncing flight deck. As for trailing wires around ships where there might be helicopters…..

Won’t these things give away the ships position way before the little radars on them can pick up A surface target??

Quite a lot not to like. Need to be convinced they have a role.

BTW the German u boat captains hated the auto gyro kites issued to them… A lot were ‘accidentally lost at sea soon after leaving port.’ …………..

S O
S O
March 9, 2014 7:16 pm

x, I don’t understand this:
“When working with a SAR helicopter you told under no circumstance secure a line from the helicopter to the vessel.”

It seems to enhance safety in the context of naval helo ops.
http://readyayeready.com/timeline/1960s/beartrap/index.htm

x
x
March 9, 2014 8:06 pm

@ Sven

Not quite the same is it?

S O
S O
March 9, 2014 8:19 pm

Well, ship, tether, rotor thingie … it’s on topic IMO.

mr.fred
mr.fred
March 9, 2014 8:58 pm

I would guess that tying an SAR bird to a ship would likely compromise the ability of the SAR bird to fly. Ship drops, wire goes tight, whirly bird tries to follow ship and the rotors fall off.
With a towed autogyro you could have a compliant link to mitigate this, or be running at a suitable distance behind the ship so that any vertical motion isn’t transmitted. On further thought, that’s probably the difference. A SAR bird is going to be right alongside/over the ship as it goes up and down. The autogyro only needs the tether to pull it, so it can be long enough that it won’t go tight vertically.

Mark
Mark
March 9, 2014 9:09 pm

Is there by chance any static build up on objects moving thru air or the potential for electrical conductivity all I can think of is let’s go fly a kite!!,.

RRTT
RRTT
March 9, 2014 9:33 pm

Some valid tactical points on issues of tethering, but comparing untethered platforms to disqualify the autogyro as a platform appears to confuse platform with tethering anything appears to miss something.
Autogyros are not normally tethered and what we can still say is that they offer superior cost, range, payload, reliability, altitude, endurance vs skeldar (for heavens sake a 2 stroke!) from just comparing the published performance stats.
Modern autogyros offer reliable flight performance especially in windy conditions and I know of 2 civvy manufacturers who are trialling auto take off, autoland and auto vertical take off modes for their civvy sports aircraft. I’m just saying that there is (for once) a cost effective superior 50k COTS platform that we are for designation and mid course guidance. Come on lets think out of the box!

Chris
Chris
March 9, 2014 9:38 pm

If I remember right I was told that USN landing-on procedure is to drop a tether from SH-60 to the ship below, which is locked into the centre of the landing pad, then the helo pulls upward until the line is taught and winches the line in, pulling itself down to the deck while mimicking quarterdeck motion – the landing is controlled and gentle. The RN way is to line the helo alongside the flightdeck and try to predict when ship motion will be benign, then slide sideways over the deck and descend, hoping the prediction wasn’t horribly wrong. I guess both have their issues and being no pilot wouldn’t like to state a preference (although the option to break away if things go wrong seems problematic with the US solution?)

Of course I might have been told fibs about the USN procedure; if so it was Fleet Air Arm sorts engaging in a jolly jape of leg-pulling. As if.

jonesy
jonesy
March 9, 2014 10:20 pm

RRTT

Unfortunately thats not as far ‘out of the box’ as you might imagine

http://www.militaryaerospace.com/articles/2013/10/darpa-tern-five.html

Cartercopters is working up a ‘jump-takeoff’ pre-rotator capable autogyro based on the PAV prototype they have flying. Slightly different end of the spectrum to that seen with this tethered unit though. The L3 system does of course have the advantages in persistence that you mention…bit limited in its operational profile compared to a camcopter or skeldar though.

dave haine
dave haine
March 10, 2014 10:11 am

There are a couple of issues I see with this….

1. It would be a giant flag, saying ‘I am here’ over a vessel- not an issue in a benign environment, but a bit detrimental to the capt’s blood pressure, if the situation is a bit ‘competitive’. (Equally, it opens up completely new piss-take opportunities, for us less ‘maritime’ mortals) At least aeroplanes can bugger off quickly, or fly so high that it can’t be related to what’s on the surface.

2. Safety during the launch and recovery phases- helicopter starts & launches during high winds are ‘exciting’, add that to an extremely wobbly deck, and the headcount (and, indeed, arm, finger or leg…..) reduction possibilities increase, markedly. Shrouded fans would reduce that, aerostats even more so.

3. Static charges, modern aeroplanes are covered in little sticks, called static dischargers for a reason, the ships would need some form of static shielding.

Ian Skinner
Ian Skinner
March 10, 2014 10:13 am

The concept is even older than WW2: http://www.aviastar.org/helicopters_eng/petroczy.php

Chuck Hill
March 15, 2014 10:56 pm

Perhaps, given a radar, these could be used to extend a surface vessel’s reaction time against sea skimming anti-ship cruise missiles.