Using Autonomous Drones to Rescue Downed Aircrew

A 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, out of JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, lifts a 212th RQS Airman and a simulated aircrew member on March 6, 2019, during Arctic Gold 19-4 near Eielson AFB, Alaska. Air Force photo by A1C Eric M. Fisher.

The Air Force has asked industry to submit proposals for an autonomous drone that can rescue downed aircrew in remote or hostile environments.

The aircraft should be “highly autonomous” and flown remotely via secure data connections, similar to today’s remotely piloted aircraft. The service wants an affordable aircraft that can carry between two to four people, including one in a liter, for 200 miles. The aircraft should be able to operate in a variety of theaters, including the desert, jungle, and maritime environments, and its “signatures should be minimalized to reduce detection where able, with focus on lowest acoustic audible signature when taking off and landing with a landing zone that is not presurveyed and measuring 50 feet by 50 feet, but no larger than 150 feet.”

Ideally, the aircraft could be airdropped from a C-130 or H-47, but it also must be fully contained and able to be launched by a ground crew within 30 minutes.

“In support of the 2018 National Defense Strategy there is a need to deploy, survive, operate, maneuver, and regenerate in all domains while under attack in theaters throughout the globe,” states the solicitation, which was posted on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website.

It continues, “These diverse environments will require operations from new isolated locations, at greater distances, requiring low-cost solutions for increasing our options for providing transport of small teams of personnel into and out of harm’s way without increasing the number of personnel at risk [the aircrew] needed to move these teams.”

Industry is asked to submit applications by July 1.