Launch Stories provides warfighters, sponsors, partners, and taxpayers with an inside look at the technologies and research developed by small businesses working with the Air Force.
Sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), this new forum highlights the advanced tools and innovations that drive US competitiveness and make service members safer, better informed, and more efficient than ever. These are their stories.
(If you are interested in partnering with the Air Force to develop a new technology or explore new markets, you can find more information here.)
Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program in 1982 to strengthen the role of smaller businesses in federally-funded research and development. This program stimulates technological innovation, uses small businesses to meet Federal R&D needs, and increases private sector competition, productivity, and economic growth.
The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a sister program to SBIR, was established by Congress in 1992 to encourage small business partnerships with Universities, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, and qualified non-profit research institutions.
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Imagine you are a member of a Special Operations team preparing for insertion into enemy territory. You need current information about atmospheric conditions to ensure a safe deployment. Existing atmospheric sensors take too long to deploy and are sometimes not accurate enough. The solution is MALRD, a tool capable of turning almost any military aircraft into a fast, accurate sounding system for obtaining critical atmospheric data.
On a remote military base, artillerymen are providing fire support for military aircraft. This requires accurate measurements of the high altitude air mass in specific locations. A dropsonde is an expendable weather reconnaissance device dropped from an aircraft to measure and track atmospheric conditions as the device falls to the surface. A rawinsonde is a balloon instrument for measuring wind speed and direction. Compatible with high speed military aircraft, the Miniature Air Launched Rawinsonde and Dropsonde (MALRD) is an innovative new device combining features of both rawinsonde and dropsonde. Once deployed, MALRD collects and transmits pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction data for the vertical air column starting at high altitudes. The measured data is transmitted to the ground station or stored in an on-board data transceiver for use in the data analysis and post-processing.
MALRD Sonde with Flare Canister
MALRD dropsonde and parachute deployed
Existing technology cannot measure high altitude atmospheric parameters at the very specific times and locations required for flight testing. This means that real-time in-situ data at high altitudes are not currently available for mission or test planning. Without this information, missions can be compromised by unforeseen weather conditions. Existing tools to measure atmospheric conditions include dropsondes launched from aircraft and balloon-launched rawinsondes. Standard dropsondes work well at relatively low altitudes, but are not designed to accurately measure the upper air column. Rawinsondes accurately measure the upper air column, but are not designed to collect data at specific times and locations. When data is required at high altitudes for flight testing, the data are extrapolated, which may result in inaccurate data.
WINTEC and the Trey Technology team worked together to demonstrate the capability to deploy a dropsonde from a military aircraft’s chafe and flare Countermeasures Dispenser System (CMDS). Leveraging the team’s knowledge of aircraft systems and previous research and development efforts which utilize the aircrafts CMDS to deploy dropsondes, we were able to successfully demonstrate a dropsonde launch from an ALE-47 bucket and secure additional funding to develop a mature system.
"The goal for MALRD is to provide an alternative to conventional approaches by leveraging existing CMDS capabilities on USAF aircraft to dispense dropsondes – thus reducing development costs" — Greg Fountain
The MALRD is installed in one or more locations in an aircraft’s standard CMDS. The aircraft operators use the same signals which launch standard countermeasures to alternatively launch the MALRD at a specific time and location. The MALRD is turned on automatically once deployed and begins to measure pressure, temperature, and humidity plus GPS wind speed and direction. The data are transmitted back to the aircraft or ground control station for use in mission planning models or flight test data reduction. The MALRD offers several improvements over existing air column measurement devices. Firstly, the MALRD design enables deployment and data measurement at high altitudes where thermal conditions present a challenge. In addition, the launching of dropsondes from a CMDS provides control in selecting the dispense point (DP) relative to latitude, longitude, and altitude to meet certain mission objectives. Control of the DP is likely more important for data collections for flight performance testing than for wide-area meteorological data collections. The F-16 aircraft allows a more deterministic collection of in-situ measurements over a broader altitude range given the overall flight capabilities of the aircraft, including medium and high altitude air-mass sampling required for planned High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flight performance testing.
For flight test applications, the ability to accurately and automatically collect atmospheric data at a specific time and location will improve the Airman’s ability to precisely model atmospheric conditions in flight test areas of operations. For future applications, the “on-demand” ability of MALRD could provide critical in-theatre data for artillery or precision air drop applications.
The advancements in dropsonde technologies resulting from the MARLD project have expanded and improved the capabilities to measure atmospheric conditions at high altitudes. With continued development, the MARLD will be a marketable product which provides critical information to the war fighter.
Currently, Vaisala and QinetiQ North America are the only companies that make a significant number of dropsondes for the USAF. If MALRD is successful, its enhanced capabilities could make it a viable alternative for both weather and precision air drop applications.
The development of the MARLD capabilities has presented an opportunity for two small businesses to expand and collaborate to meet the objectives of the project. Trey Technology evolved as a new business with expertise in dropsonde capabilities. WINTEC has provided the expertise to operate the MALRD on existing aircraft and expanded their capability set
The Air Force operates in the air. Nothing could be more fundamental to the Air Force mission than rapidly measuring the properties of the air we work in to enable us to operate more effectively. — Maurice Martin, Air Force Research Scientist at AFRL
Shalimar, FL and Slidell, LA
WINTEC, Inc. is a small business focused on R&D while providing engineering services, systems and software development, and flight test support. Our capabilities include weapons systems integration/simulation, Unmanned System development, avionics software and special test equipment development.
Miniature Air Launched Rawinsonde and Dropsonde (MALRD)
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