Inflator-based UAV Launchers
Over the past 20 years, SEA CORP has developed a family of launchers with their patented technology using different sized and powered Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) automotive airbag inflators to provide the impulse energy for launching a wide variety of payloads. Originally developed in partnership with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center to replace the surface ship torpedo launcher aboard U.S. Navy surface combatants, the program has grown to incorporate payloads from UAVs weighing less than 2 lbs to 1000 lb missile shapes. Launch platforms for these launchers have included surface ships, submarines, USVs, aircraft, and ground vehicles. Extensive live fire testing at SEA CORP’s indoor Dynamic Test Facility, at land based sites, and at sea has been successfully completed demonstrating the versatility of this technology.
Combined with simulation modeling, this live-fire testing has provided SEA CORP a wealth of data for system performance characterization under various conditions and with different payloads.
The reliability and long shelf life (over 15 years) of COTS airbag inflators makes it possible for the development of modular payload launching systems, completely self-contained in a combination shipping container/launch canister. This “All-Up-Round” concept allows for relatively simple mounting to ships, vehicles, or aircraft, and electrical connection to an appropriate fire control system.
Inflator-Based UAV Launcher Features
- Reliable Impulse Energy (99.9999%)
- COTS Technology
- Payload Versatility (1 – 1000+lbs)
- All-Up-Round Capability
- Long Shelf Life
- Tunable Launch Dynamics
- Hellshot Launcher
- Type “A” Sonobuoy Sized UAV
- Supports Multiple UAV variants
- Folded Control Surfaces
- Man Portable
- Low Maintenance/Cost
- Reusable Launcher
- Tactical units capable of simple, self-contained power/controls
- Environmentally friendly
The prototype Hellshot UAV launcher used four automotive airbag inflators to expel the UAV from the its launch tube and provide a sufficient exit velocity to enable the UAV to transition to flight while minimizing G forces on the UAV. The Hellshot launcher was specifically developed for the Army under a contract with L3 Communications – Geneva Aerospace and deployed their CUTLASS folded wing UAV that was developed for launching from a Type A size sonobuoy canister from an aircraft. This size very closely matched the 120mm Army mortar as well. Use of multiple COTS inflators for the impulse energy facilitated operational flexibility, weight reduction, and payload variability. The launcher can be adapted to similar sized UAVs with only minor modifications to the push points.
- Very small 3lb, 15.75” length UAV
The Close Combat Lethal Reconnaissance (CCLR) program deployed a very small, one time use, man-portable UAV developed by Raytheon Missile Systems for the Army. SEA CORP developed a prototype launcher including control electronics that used a single inflator. This effort continued with a follow-on launcher in a more tactical configuration incorporating features for the fiber optic UAV control tether. The entire tactical configuration launcher weighed less than 2 lbs.
Additional UAV Launcher Development
SEA CORP has developed several launchers enabling submarine-based UAV deployment. Launch was effected either via the submarine’s Trash Disposal Unit (TDU) or from a Tomahawk-sized tube, ascended from depth to the ocean surface, and then launched the UAV while floating there. The TDU launcher version accommodated UAVs of up to 13 lbs, while the Tomahawk-sized tube version is intended to launch the Scan Eagle Compressed Carriage (SECC) UAV with up to 20 hours of flight duration.
In addition to these launchers, SEA CORP has also designed and built UAV launchers for mounting in aircraft, on USVs, and on ground vehicles. This latter included an adaptation of a TOW missile tube to launch the Maveric UAV from existing Bradley and Striker vehicles.