Boeing [BA] has successfully completed a series of tests using modified ship-based ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to track simulated biological plumes, collect the airborne agents, return the craft to the ship to retrieve the samples and then re-launch the craft.

The tests, which began last November and ended in February, followed receipt of an $8.2 million contract from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in March 2006 (TR2, June 14, 2006). Under the Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD), Boeing modified two 50-pound-class Insitu Group-built ScanEagles for the Biological Combat Assessment System (BCAS) program.

One UAV is equipped with four bio-collectors and a plume sensor to collect samples. The other bird is outfitted with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors for both reconnaissance and bomb damage assessment of weapons of mass destruction facilities. The ISR aircraft was also equipped with video storage capabilities for later download and beyond line of sight photo capture and transmission. Both aircraft flew simultaneously in support of the mission.

For the main collection tests, the UAVs were flown from Naval Air Systems Command 38 research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico and guided to the test range at Eglin AFB, Fla., to do beyond line of sight sample collection. A total of eight operational missions were flown in late January, with seven successfully intercepting the simulated biological plumes.

In one of the missions, Boeing’s engineers tried a different approach to the plume interception but it didn’t work, according to Keith Coleman, the company’s program manager for the BCAS ATD. No big deal. In the next test, Boeing went back to the standard intercept approach and was successful, he says.

After the aircraft completed each collection and assessment operation, they were recovered aboard the research vessel where the sample material was then analyzed. The aircraft were also decontaminated using a very low hydrogen peroxide system that is less concentrated than what is found in a drug store and didn’t require any special handling for shipboard use, Coleman says.

So what was new?

Beyond line of sight control of the 50-pound-class of UAV, the biological sample collection by the UAV and then recovery aboard a ship, the decontamination, and re-launch were all new, Coleman says.

Earlier developmental testing of the BCAS also showed that the UAVs could be controlled from ranges in excess of 2,500 miles via a satellite link, Coleman says. For the operational missions, the requirement was for a 250 nautical mile range and a one-hour loiter time.

The original contract contained options for production and additional upgrades to do onboard bio-identification. Those options haven’t been exercised, Coleman says. DTRA is interested in doing a follow-on program but Coleman doesn’t know that that might consist of.

Boeing had several teammates for the ATD, including Insitu Group, Midwest Research Inc., which provided the biological collection system and particle counter in the UAV, Applied Research Associates, which worked on plume tracking and evaluation, and L-3 Communications’ [LLL] Titan business unit, which provided the decontamination capability. Steris Corp. [STE] was originally expected to do the decontamination work but dropped out of the program.