To enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to refuel from tankers in flight, NASA researchers are studying the motion of a refueling hose and its conical basket drogue when in proximity to a receiving aircraft.
Aerodynamic phenomena can cause the refueling hose and drogue to be displaced by the wakes of the aircraft, and this must be mapped and understood before UAVs can successfully engage in automated aerial refueling.
The Automated Aerial Refueling (AAR) project at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California uses a pair of F/A-18 jet aircraft to represent the tanker and receiver in formation over the Mojave Desert. Following flight test envelope expansion sorties in December 2002, the team is readying for another series of flights in May and June to complete drogue model development. The goal is to create a versatile computer model for refueling UAV aircraft.
NASA Dryden is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force Research Laboratory, Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Air Force - Pacific Fleet, Canadian Air Force, Boeing, and Northrop-Grumman in this effort.