Easton, MD -BAI Aerosystems Dragon Drone unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provides land and sea forces with an ability to do reconnaissance, at a range of 50 miles for missions up to three hours. An effective launch system and recovery skids or shipboard net permitted its designers to cut vehicle weight by eliminating the landing gear.
But when shipboard launching was needed, difficulty with the existing launcher became apparent, according to Jay Willmott, vice president of BAI Aerospace. Previous launch methods flung not only the UAV out off the launcher, but its cradle as well. Aboard ship, such discarding of components overboard was not acceptable.
BAI engineers redesigned their launcher that retains the cradle around a pair of rodless pneumatic cylinders from Hoerbiger-Origa (Glendale Heights, IL). These 80 mm (3.1 inch) bore devices have a 3m (9.8 ft) stroke and accelerate the 50 kg (110 lbs) drone to 100 kph (62 mph) during launch. The cylinders are first charged to about 8 bar pressure with bottled nitrogen or air from a compressor. According to Hoerbiger-Origa Mechanical Applications Engineer Stephan Barry, once launched, shock absorbers in the cylinder end caps and specially machined holes in the cylinder barrel decelerate the cylinder pistons along with the UAV's cradle. The shocks directly absorb energy, while the holes bleed pressure once the pistons pass them.
Willmott says, "Reliability has been excellent, even in desert environments."
The rodless pneumatic cylinders allow rapid, successive drone launchings.