Game-Changing Air Force Innovation Takes Flight

By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
Air Force Research Laboratory

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s AgilePod has commenced a series of flight tests aboard a Douglas DC-3 aircraft in preparation for integration on the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle later this year. AgilePod is fully flight-line reconfigurable, and enables operators to meet a variety of mission sets with multiple sensors on a single platform. (U.S. Air Force photo by David Dixon)

A year of cutting-edge technology development and prototyping by Air Force Research Laboratory teams has culminated in a series of flight demonstrations as part of the Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian “Project Harvest Reaper.”

AFRL’s AgilePod has embarked on a series of flight tests aboard a Douglas DC-3 aircraft in preparation for integration on the Air Force MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle later this year. The Lego-like pod is flying in multiple configurations with a mixture of sensor systems and technologies on board, with the goal to optimize the pod for operational activity and longevity.

“AgilePod is a game-changer,” said Capt. Russell Shirey, Blue Guardian Program Manager at the AFRL Sensors Directorate. “This is a unique opportunity to highlight the benefits of modular open system architectures for airborne platforms.”

AgilePod, the first fully government-owned, multi-intelligence, reconfigurable pod, was developed using agile manufacturing technology and a modular open mission system approach to software design, resulting in a system capable of supporting rapid integration and mission agility to address emerging threats in new environments.

Unique to the AgilePod is that it is flight line reconfigurable, enabling operators to meet a variety of mission demands with multiple sensors on a single platform. A mixture of different pod configurations, ranging from 28 to 60 inches in length, are being tested on the DC-3, enabling simultaneous testing of multiple sensors including high-definition video, radar, infrared sensors and more.

“Current sensor capabilities on aircraft are built for specific mission tasks, such as close air support or targeting, using proprietary software and hardware. Open system architecture standards combined with a single AgilePod having ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities and configurations enables one pod to perform hundreds of different mission sets. This is key for cost savings and increased sustainability,” said Shirey.

“The ability to rapidly test multiple configurations on the DC-3 aircraft gives us a ‘Lab-In-The-Sky’ concept and allows our team to wring out any issues before we move forward to the unmanned MQ-9, where we will not have the luxury of engineers in the cockpit,” said Shirey.

Though the pod is currently in flight demonstration and testing, engineers are already looking toward future capabilities when it transitions to the MQ-9 platform. Once transitioned, it will support operations by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command and others.

“Our goal is to ensure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities can be more affordable and operationally flexible for the warfighter,” said Shirey. “That’s what these demonstration flights will help us achieve as we head towards the future of ISR.”

Learn more about the AgilePod.

RELATED LINK: AgilePod ‘reconfiguring’ ISR mission

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