Uncrewed Systems Technology 046

90 In operation | Vantis BVLOS network The State of North Dakota has invested in infrastructure intended to get the suppliers 90% of the way towards a complete network. The initial sites for radio tower construction were focused largely on oil & gas hubs in the state’s northwest region, given the strategic importance of persistent aerial inspection for that industry. It is expected that the infrastructure will eventually support the entire state, allowing other industries to take advantage of the network. A request for proposals was then published in 2020, from which Thales USA was selected as prime systems integrator to build most of the technological aspects of the network. In addition to installing two large radars so far for detect & avoid (DAA) in a UTM capacity, Thales has selected uAvionix as a critical subcontractor for C2 comms service provision. As well as being the radio manufacturer and installer, the network software engineer and manager, and the provider of hardware for the DAA infrastructure, uAvionix’s biggest and most demanding role in Vantis is that of prime systems test flight operator. Its team takes test UAVs out into the fields of North Dakota, and flies them to study and prove that the network’s C2 and DAA subsystems are working as intended to support its safety case analysis, so that commercial users of Vantis can start flying on it in the near future with confidence. As Cyriel Kronenburg, uAvionix’s vice- president of business development, notes, “So far, several companies have started to come on board to join the network this year – such as Workhorse, Isight Drone Services, Phoenix Air, the UND Aerospace Foundation, Asylon and American Aerospace Technologies – and we’ll help them with the process.” Meanwhile, Vantis’ own team provides critical coordination and leadership support to both Thales and uAvionix, at the sites where the two companies operate as well as elsewhere across the state. From the Mission Network & Operations Center (MNOC) in Grand Forks, ND, Vantis monitors all the flight and integration activities in order to evolve the network’s growth, technological development, safety case, user base and more. Test aircraft and infrastructure Ramsey says that, being the prime test flyer for Vantis, uAvionix has to perform hundreds of airborne trials and gather copious telemetry to gauge the performance of the network’s ground systems, aircraft radios and frequencies. To perform the number and hours of test flights needed (without maintenance- related delays to take-offs), uAvionix has five specially built UAVs, referred to as the Rapace. They are electric VTOL- transitioning systems with twin-boom, inverted V-tail airframes, four vertically disposed electric motors, and one pusher propeller for forward flight. “The Rapace is not an aircraft we sell; we had it built with some key specifications, but upon delivery we strip out most of the avionics and install our own, including our radios, our autopilot and our GNSS,” Ramsey says. “In that sense, it’s basically our utility truck – we load it up, fly it around and record data. There’s no camera payload, that’s not the job at hand.” The first piece of equipment installed on board is uAvionix’s George G2 autopilot, which is based on CubePilot’s October/November 2022 | Uncrewed Systems Technology uAvionix is a critical subcontractor to Thales in the Vantis project, which has installed two large radars so far for detect & avoid purposes (Courtesy of Thales)