Bird’s Eye View for Ships

 Photo:  Valkyrie Virtual Mast System model   Kelsey D. Atherton 

ThinkDefence reports L3 is resurrecting an old idea to extend the horizon distance for  surface vessels. Their “virtual mast” puts sensors at high altitude without the need for a helicopter or UAV. Popular Science has a bit more detail, reporting that the proposed system could fly as high 5,000 feet. Sensors at that altitude would have a radar and visual horizon of 76 nautical miles.

Not sure how they would warn off air traffic that might otherwise hit the cable or the autogyro.

Historical Note: During WWII German U-boats used a similar unpowered tethered autogyro to take a lookout aloft, but their altitude was much more limited.

28 thoughts on “Bird’s Eye View for Ships

  1. What a great concept! With this thing flying like a kite, there is no pilot needed, no fuel needed, and upkeep would be simple compared to fixed wing or rotor wing platforms. This thing could be the perfect concept for use on board Coast Guard Cutters!

  2. Wow! Someone was thinking there!

    As far as danger to air traffic, they wouldn’t necessarily need to fly it that high (5000′) all the time. Also, I bet some sort of warning system could be developed. The clamp-on plastic disks used on high tension wires near runways come to mind. They could be diamond-shaped like radar reflectors and made from springy plastic so they collapse as the trail line is reeled in and stowed?

  3. When destroyers used stream the Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) they would sent out a general warning. The same could be done again but for air.

      • A common technique for collision avoidance among aircraft is altitude separation. Helicopters have a transponder that encodes their altitude information and in addition they are lighted. They also have operators who see and avoid. UAVs can also have transponders and lights and there is on going work to allow them to “sense and avoid”, but a 5000 foot long cable is different in that it is not expected. It cannot sense and avoid, but unlike known hazards like towers, buildings, and wind turbines this would move and is not marked on any chart. Taking 5000 feet of the airspace is pretty restrictive of other traffic.

      • I’d also guess when a naval vessel launches a helo, CIC checks the airspace for safety/hazards/conflicts and, in peacetime, does some Air Traffic Control – like announcement of the launch and flight.

  4. The gyro cannot have a transponder that would warn people off? If all recall, the transponders do not always work. I recall some USMC helicopters and a CG C-130 running into each other well under 5000 feet. All manned, all with operators.

  5. I think we’re over-thinking this.

    If the cutter launches the auto-gyro mast extender, there would be a CIC radar watch for any aircraft flying within, say, 20 miles, and at, near, or certainly below the height the cutter was “flying” the mast at. A safety warning could/would be transmitted via radio.

    The wire could have fibre-optic lighting, or perhaps an LED lighting system built in which could be turned on.

    In very poor weather/visibility, a height restriction could be imposed. (Of course, not much would be lost, because in the same conditions, a helo and/or UAV may not be able to fly at all.)

    • And, of course, there is the Air Force “big sky” concept. They taught stealth pilots to ignore AAA, because without a tracking/guidance system (just blindly firing into the air), they were unlikely to get hit in spite of how “intense” the tracer fire looked. Why? Because the sky is big! Hence, the “Big Sky” concept.

      Applied in reverse to our situation, the likelihood of the line getting hit is VERY low, with absolutely no warning system, because there is a LOT of sky from horizon to horizon while standing on the bridge, yet that wire is only in ONE spot…

  6. The company’s blurb sheet shows it being used by a small patrol boat. Why are aviation people necessary? The same information sheet also has a photo of it being flown from a container ship.

    • Agree. Putting it at only 900 feet which is probably a good compromise in terms of avoiding endangering any air traffic would at least quadruple horizon distance for a cutter to over 32 nautical miles. If an FRC could maintain a 64 mile sweep width near 24/7 it would probably be more effective than an MEC flying a helicopter four hours a day.

  7. GOTCHA. I WASN’T THINKING FAR ENOUGH OUTSIDE THE BOX ON WHERE YOU 2 WERE GOING. I WAS STILL (TOO) FOCUSED ON GIVING AN ALTERNATIVE TO OPCS AND NSCS SINCE THERE ARE NO UAVS ON THE HORIZON YET… GOOD POINTS ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF AN FRC WITH ONE OF THESE TETHERED AT 900′, CHUCK. CONSIDERING THE COST AND RISK, A SYSTEM LIKE THIS COULD (SHOULD?) JUST REPLACE THE UAV REQUIREMENT ON THE OPC. CONSIDERING THE SIMILARITIES IN FRC AND OPC MISSIONS, IT MAKE A LOT OF SENSE ON THESE 2 PLATFORMS PARTICULARLY.

    • I wish they had given us the dimensions and weight for this thing. It does not look very large, but it would be good to know specifically. My guess from the photo is four feet high, six feet long, and a span of about 16 feet.

      Very few aircraft are likely to be flying under 1000 feet over open ocean unless they specifically come down to take a look at a ship. If the autogyro had lights and a transponder and the tether had some bright lights, It is very unlikely that there would be a collision.

      The Coast Guard would likely want to have a radar system.

      If they had radar system, it might be useful for anti-ship missile defense since it would potentially increase the reaction time to incoming missiles.

  8. There could be different size gyros for different vessels. The technology is not so hard and fast that other sizes are not possible (possible is a bad word for historians). We see drones being used today and some are very small. Amazon has floated using small helicopter drones to deliver groceries to the front door. With nanotechnology these things are possible.

  9. I can’t recall exactly if the tether on the Aerostat’s at sea was lighted or not.
    Maybe it did have a strobelight every 300 feet or so??
    I do recall that the Aerostat itself did have lights on it.

    Does anyone know how the land based Aerostat’s are lit up?

  10. I found a video on YouTube of the CG Aerostat program that appears to be sales pitch video from RCA (the contractor who sold the program and the Aerostat program to the Coast Guard).

    A couple of times during the 12 minute video you can see the Aerostat flying from the ship. There does not appear to be any type of strobe light(s) on the tether but there are flags that they place on the tether every so often as the Aerostat balloon is being reeled out.

    —————————————————————-

    It would be nice to see some type of hybrid between the Aerostat program and this toy looking thing being integrated into some of our cutters; to give them the eyes to see beyond the visible horizon.

    It’s too bad we don’t have any “real” research and development shop in the CG that could study capabilities that we need to operate more efficiently. We are too often waiting for a contractor to invent something we didn’t ask for but we we end up buying anyway because it’s cool, new, and shiny…but fails to really meet “all” of our needs.

    Does anyone know why the CG got rid of the Aerostat program?? Money??

    The CG Aerostat program was one of the most memorable tours I had – two man staterooms, civilian crew, civilian cooks!!, no sea showers, not having to wear a uniform (unless you were refueling a 110′), no chipping/painting, great fishing/diving, etc…the only complaint was no port calls and 28-day straight u/w patrols w/no pu&&y pay (i.e. FSA pay).

    Former Caribbean Sentry sailor sends! 😉

  11. Chuck,
    I found this GAO report online regarding DOD’s takeover of the Aerostat program in 1991/92.

    It seems some Congress critters directed the transfer of the CG’s five Aerostat’s into the Army’s smaller Aerostat program for consolidation. The Army then misappropriated some of that money in its consolidation efforts and it appears the program was killed within a couple of years.

    It really sucks to read this report and the overall impact it had on the CG and its capabilities during the 90’s in tracking targets – the Aerostat program was a true force multiplier.

    http://archive.gao.gov/d49t13/149882.pdf

    • That is okay. The Coast Guard lost the E2C program in a fight with Customs. I have to wonder if the Coast Guard did not want to get out both areas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s