Using Flash LiDAR to Autonomously Refuel Planes

One of the most fun trips that I have had the pleasure of taking involved a ride on KC 135 – the U.S. Air Force refueling tanker. We flew from Pease Air Force base to San Diego. We were supposed to refuel a couple of fighter jets, but weather prevented that. We did get to lie down in the boom operator’s prone position – amazing. We also got to take a tour of a Los Angeles class nuclear attack sub on that trip, visit the home of Top Gun and sit in a Tom Cat fighter jet. How about that?

Okay back to the story. Autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) is an important capability for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to have, enabling its flying range and endurance to be increased without increasing its size.

In this article in Vision Systems Design they report on the work being done at Advanced Scientific Concepts (Santa Barbara, CA, USA) to use Flash LiDAR to aid in docking. The ability to collect 3D video in real time and through fog make Flash an interesting technology.

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One Response to Using Flash LiDAR to Autonomously Refuel Planes

  1. Richard Richmond says:

    Before I retired from the Sensor Directorate of the Air Force Research Lab, we were working with the ASC camera looking at this same problem. the size of system and reasonable pixel count (128×128) made it a reasonable lidar for this application. With the lidar mounted on a vehicle, we actually collected several data sets as the vehicle approached the rear of an aircraft with a boom. (these were all ground scenarios). The lidar would offer sufficient field of view for initial capture and enough resolution to detect an track the boom as we approached. One of the advantages to this approach compered to others using ultra-precision GPS and dedicated comm-links was that the equipment needed only be installed on the aircraft being refueled, nothing was required on the tanker. The tracking algorithm is pretty straightforward since you are working with 3-D data.

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