HELIKITE CASE STUDIES
US Army in Afghanistan. Base Force Protection. Airborne Video Surveillance. 2012- OngoingSince the beginning of the Afghan campaign, the Taliban caused problems to most coalition forces by approaching “Forward Operating Bases” (FOBS) and laying IED’s, throwing bombs or firing rocket propelled grenades into them. Traditional CCTV surveillance proved incapable of keeping insurgents from creeping right up to the FOB walls. Traditional large blimp surveillance aerostats were too big to inflate and deploy at these small bases. Eventually, it was realised by coalition forces that smaller aerostats would be the best answer.
So, purchased and extensively tested by the US Army’s “Rapid Equipping Force”, via Carolina Unmanned Vehicles Inc and Georgia Tech University, the “Small Tactical Multi-Purpose Aerostat System (STMPAS)” has been successfully operating in numerous small FOB’s. Consisting of a 75m3 Desert Star Helikite, carrying Cloud Cap Tase 400 gyro-stabilised video camera gimbals up to 1,500 feet, the system can detect and target the positions of insurgents from long distances for many days duration in all weathers. The Helikites have proved a great success. FOB’s with Helikites flying over them keep the Taliban over a mile away, where they are not a threat. This saves lives and injuries, keeps land safe from IED’s, as well as greatly reducing Taliban effectiveness – for minimal cost.
Oilspill Detection and Cleanup
Helikites are the only small, easily handled, aerostat capable of operating at sea in all-weathers. In collaboration with Maritime Robotics in Norway, Allsopp Helikites Ltd have been developing a maritime airborne Helikite camera system suitable for aiding oil spill detection and clean up. The system called, “Ocean-Eye” is now in operation with Maritime Robotics AS and the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO).
Arctic ocean, Norway. 2012 – Ongoing
Oil spills are very hard to spot from sea level. Airborne cameras are a great help in determining the extent and thickness of the oil over the sea. Aircraft and UAV’s have proven too short-term to partner with the clean up vessels during oil sweeping operations. However, small Helikites flown from the clean up ship or nearby small boats are able to provide real-time streaming aerial video of the oil slick as the clean-up boom is positioned to pick it up. This allows very accurate positioning of the boom and allows more oil to be extracted from the sea in a shorter time. Thus reducing onshore pollution, damage to the marine ecology and clean-up costs.
Long-Range Digital Radio-Relay and GPS Free Positioning
Australia is very large. So long distance digital radio-relay is essential to allow modern net-work radios to work properly for its military or emergency services.
Australian Defence Force (ADF) / US Army. Australia.
Excercise Talisman-Sabre 2012.
The ADF first tried to use TCOM 17metre long, 800m3 volume aerostats to lift the Ratheon “Micro-Light” radios to 1000ft. But these required numerous truckloads of helium, driven hundreds of miles into the bush and they were so large, heavy and difficult to operate in any weather, that they gave them up after a couple of days attempted operation. To replace them, they bought instead some 4 metre long, 15m3 volume Desert Star Helikites that can be inflated and easily deployed to 1000ft within minutes from just five Pelicases - including helium. These proved a great success, lifting “Microlight” with no problems, keeping the antenna stable automatically and getting 42 miles line of sight range with high bandwidth. “Microlight” also is unique in providing robust and very accurate positioning of users – totally independent of vulnerable GPS. A useful feature that is likely to prove very valuable in any future conflict. This successful program is ongoing.
Bowman Aerostat Beyond Line-of-Sight (BABLOS)
BABLOS is the only proven, rapid, tactical range extension system for the Bowman radio. Designed for the 2011 Excercise Cougar in Oman, BABLOS ended up with the Royal Marines on HMS Ocean during the Libyan campaign. It enables troops on the shore to communicate with ships over the horizon using a standard, unmodified, Bowman Radio. This allows ships to remain out of radar range of anti-ship missiles. On its own, the Bowman Radio has very limited performance. It is essentially line of sight, and without elevation of the antenna, a typical maximum range and area of coverage of about one mile is often observed.
Royal Marines Expeditionary Force
BABLOS brings Bowman to life. Within 10 minutes inflation and deployment time, the small, stealthy, 10m3, all-weather, Desert Star BABLOS Helikite lifts a specially designed wideband antenna and lightweight coax cable to 200ft. During pre-deployment trials with the Marines in the UK, the expected range of 17 miles was achieved giving 908 square miles coverage.
The entire BABLOS system including helium cylinders, Helikite, launch system, flying line, coax cable and antenna can fit into 4 x 130 litre Bergan backpacks. This ease of mobility proved important, because during its deployment to Oman, the BABLOS system was required to be transferred, by simple manhandling, from ship to shore four times.
Over-The-Horizon Radio Relay to Minehunter Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV’s)
Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV’s) are robot boats. The Royal Navy is testing them for hunting and destroying mines away from the manned naval vessels. They are proving promising for this job. However, they need to be within radio-range of the manned ship for their control and also to send the information they are collecting back to the ship. This means one or more large, expensive, fully manned naval vessels will be loitering for many hours or days within easy visual line-of-sight range of multiple enemy shore batteries and anti-ship missiles. This is obviously not a good idea.
Royal Navy / Atlas Electronics
Small 15m3 Desert Star Helikites lifted Cobham Network radios + antennas to 900ft altitude providing over-the-horizon radio communications between the shore and the unmanned boat. This worked exceedingly well, allowing the USV to go more than 20 nautical miles over the horizon whilst relaying full streaming video, positioning data, engine data etc. This allows ships to remain out of easy detection by enemy shore forces and so increases the safety of ships and crews. Greater range is possible with greater altitude. Many areas, such as the Arabian Gulf, can be cleared of mines by using USV’s deployed from shore, operated via Helikites flying from shore or the sea.
World’s first flight of an Aerostat from a Remote Controlled Robot Boat
This trial proved beyond any doubt that Helikites can be easily and safely flown from USV’s. A remote controlled electric winch on the USV launched the Helikite hundreds of feet into the ky where it flew steadily in high winds. During this trial, every type of USV manoeuvre was tried to cause the Helikite to become unstable or get the flying line caught in the propeller, but it proved impossible to upset either the Helikite or the boat. It is proved easy to fly Helikites from USV’s with little loss of boat speed. Helikites have a similar endurance to USV’s, which means that now they can pull Helikites carrying broadband radio transceivers far out to sea for weeks. These MANET radios can spread broadband comms over thousands of square miles of ocean – allowing the spread of robotics throughout the oceans.
Allsopp Helikites Ltd / Autonomous Surface Vessels Ltd (ASV)
Aerial Photographic Survey of Ancient Armarna, Egypt.
Helikites are often used for archaeology photography using digital cameras. Cambridge University however, wanted to take stereo still images with a pair of 35mm SLR’s. The site was ancient Armarna in Egypt, where Tutankhamen was born.
University of Cambridge, Archaeology Department.
The 7m3 Skyhook Helikite was fitted out with a payload attachment system to hold the cameras steady on the Helikite keel. It worked very well, giving ultra sharp, stereo images of the entire area under investigation. Helikites allow far greater timeliness than aircraft, are far cheaper and give better resolution too due to their relative closeness and low vibration compared to aircraft. The Helikite was featured in a BBC “Timewatch” program of the operation. The Helikite performed perfectly in the very hot conditions in Egypt and is now housed their permanently.
Lifting Multiple Tethersondes for Meteorological Research
Tethersondes are used to measure wind speed, humidity, temperature etc at height. They are attached to the tether of aerostats which are then sent up to high altitude. The advantages are that readings can be made at a variety of heights simultaneously. This is essential for the understanding of the boundary layer of air situated just above the land. This behaviour of the boundary layer can influence the weather and also dictates the position of much air pollution.
University of Millersville, USA.
Recently, the University of Millersville replaced their old damaged traditional blimp aerostat with a new 11m3 Skyhook Helikite to lift their Vaisala tethersondes. It has been performing very well. So far it has operated in winds up to 16m/sec (32knots) with no problems. As it is capable of flying steadily in winds up to 45 knots the Helikite should prove useful for much future work.
Helikites as small as 2m3 can also carry tethersondes, but not so many at one time.