Civil Drones In the Military

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This is a press release about our partnership with the Navy.  This is significant because at the moment all Commercially Off the Shelf UAV’s (COTS) are banned in the military and we’re one of the few, if not the only UAV company given a waiver to fly.


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This obviously is something that has been in the works for a considerable amount of time.  In fact it started well before the ban on COTS which is why I often referred to the US Army ban on DJI and what the potential impact that might have on the commercial market.  Many on this and other forums thought I had an agenda or accused me of being a conspiracy theorists.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of what someone knows and when.  

As a result of this CRADA I was asked to be on a panel and give a presentation on the potential role of UAV’s and “The Digital Twin” in regards to In Service Engineering.  In attendance were the Undersecretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy and a a whole host of officials with acronyms I have no idea what they are..  

I cant share the actual presentation but I can share the introduction video.  The first 30 seconds is our standard open but then it changes to the introduction of the presentation.  The titles go by quickly but if people are serious about working in and developing a strong commercial UAV industry, these are the types of things we should be discussing.  

If people continue to believe the hype coming from DJI then you should continue to expect being paid a couple of hundred dollars per mission.  If instead people want to understand for themselves how to define an industry where you can charge thousands of dollars per mission then I’d recommend changing the conversation. 


I’m not selling a book,  or am I trying to get people to attend a $199 class, I’m just trying to get people to take control of their own future.  It doesn’t cost anything to debate and shape your own future.  For people who think that this can’t happen on a forum like this, we’ll they are spineless uninformed idiots.  This is exactly how the whole drone industry started in the first place.  

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hehehe... chuck - you're crackin me up! Where is your selfie stick in the most recent photo of you? j/k

I liked the original post but got distracted and missed replying. Congrats on landing this AND making it official. 

Can you speak to any current challenges you've found since starting this or is everything classified?

Have you tried launching/landing the drone in rough seas? In rain? How close can you get to the ship and still feel your operation is safe?

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Hi @Steve Bennett how have you been?  Good questions.  

I can't post any of the footage of the "USS Aerial Alchemy" the Navy's Self Defense Test Ship because it often has things on it that isn't meant for the public.  However the research we're doing isn't considered classified.  We also us a smaller ship, The Independence for many of the experiments, its also a Navy ship and there are often restrictions on what we can show. 

You've probably already seen this one, the USS Aerial Alchemy is in this from a distance as we're leaving port on the Independence:

Working with the military has its challenges but everyone is really supportive and so far there haven't been that many obstacles to working with the Navy.

When you fly UAVs people always talk about safety first, I tend to think about safety third or fourth.  If you know what your doing and safety is part of the plan then common sense goes a long way.  There's really not much, if anything, our UAVs could damage on either ship so regarding safety its not that much different than flying on land.

We're getting the whole takeoff and landing thing on a moving ship down pretty well.  Most consumer drones won't arm on the hood of a car, you can get Phantoms and MAVIC to arm if you hand launch them but the Navy really  frowns on that.  We can get away with that in the research environment but they won't allow sailors to hand launch and recover. 

Some of the challenges are the many passive and active radars.  They use a lot of classified radars that I can't tell you whet they are, not that I'm keeping secrets I really have no idea what they are.  I only care about if they effect the performance of our UAVs.  We have what we call a "Rabbit," its basically a smaller version of our UAVs with all the same electronics that we launch first to test for interference.  

We haven't launched in rough seas, we haven't really even been out in rough sees.  They probably wouldn't use what we're doing in inclement weather simply because the scan wouldn't be effective.  We have modified the UAVs a little to deal with all the moisture.  The ocean is a pretty demanding environment and causes a lot of corrosion etc..  We will have to change our manufacturing process for anything the Navy would use.  

I tried a selfie stick but I couldn't get enough of the ship in the shot...



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Although we’re not finished, this article closes the loop on what we started more than a year ago.  This was written by someone in NAVSEA and is kind of an interesting take on our research. 

To: Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer

From: Mark B. Thompson; T2/IP Coordinator; NSWC PHD – Office of Technology

Re: Research on Digital Twins for Modernized In-Service Engineering, and Naval Maintenance

Throughout history, the races that the world forever remembers are not necessarily those of a person or vehicle’s speed around a course, but rather those of an entity’s dominance of ingenuity. Think of the Arms Race prior to the outbreak of the First World War, or the Space Race launched under President Kennedy. What the victors of these events have in common is their swift and successful capitalization of emerging technologies on a maximum scale. They who can recognize, harness, and implement the value of such technologies for their cause will accelerate their progress, and ultimately be the victor.

One cog in the technological wheel of today’s race is the application of unmanned aerial systems (UASs), and the utilization of their collected data for military uses. The division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center located at Port Hueneme, CA (NSWC PHD) has taken great stridesin the recognition, and effective capitalization, of UAS applications through their efforts with Aerial Alchemy,under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), signed in June of 2018. Aerial Alchemy is a UAS and data collection service company local to the Command, and familiarized with the needs of the Navy through participation in multiple Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) iterations. Their attention to detail in the back-end quality and security of the collected data especially caught the Navy’s attention. NSWC PHD and Aerial Alchemy are now refining their methods of UASdata collection through relevant and increased testing to align with the Command’s Strategic Objective of accelerating deployment of new capabilities to the fleet. In the terminology of the agreement itself, the purpose of the prescribed research is to “investigate the feasibility of utilizing unmanned aerial systems in the realm of naval and shipboard repair, maintenance and special use situations to ensure the readiness of naval and combat systems” (NCRADA-NSWC PHD-18-0004). 

As a naval facility dedicated to in-service engineering, NSWC PHD seeks effective and efficient methods to reduce maintenance costs and improve maintenance methods. Aerial Alchemy proposed they could producedigital twins of U.S. Navy vessels and assets, using combined aerial and ground (onboard) photogrammetry with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), in such exceptional detail that a 3-D model could be used to view an individual flake of rust. And through repeated ventures aboard the Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s (NAVFAC’s) research and testing vessel the M/V Independence, they have done just that. This form of digital engineering lends itself to Navy preventative maintenance needs by allowing engineers and maintenance personnel to compare scans of a ship and observe corrosion degradation to key combat (or other) systems in unprecedented clarity. 

Research under the CRADA has insofar shown the notable potential for reduced maintenance costs by producing a resultant data set that can be shared and viewed by multiple experts and inspectors remotely. These experts can potentially call for repairs on a particular system before it degrades to the point of failure without ever having stepped foot on that respective vessel. The procedure also reduces human error and negligence issues that can arise from the repetition and fatigue associated with many manual inspection routines. The accuracy and reliability of any identified and reportedquandary onboard can also be substantiated when accompanied by evidence from the 3-D model. This would stand to reduce miscommunications, and therefore long-term logistical costs for the Navy. Since the summer of 2018, research has largely moved past proving that a UAS survey can be successful, and shifted towards filling other holes in the Navy value chain. The innumerableprofessional applications of such time-based, geotagged,metadata-dense models are only beginning to materialize.

Another use for data compiled in the form of a digital twin is in the realm of digital engineering, separate from corrosion monitoring. While blueprints perhaps show what a vessel should be, a scan of the ship its true status, and is thus a more actionable representation of the ship. Prior to entering into the CRADA, the NSWC PHD Office of Research and Technology Application (ORTA) Manager,Mr. Alan Jaeger, personally observed the conduct and results of Aerial Alchemy’s scans of power substationsacross California. It was observed that their team’s process succeeded in beginning to modernize the engineering methods of public utility infrastructure, and it was recognized that the U.S. Navy stands to benefit from a comparable modernization. 

Digital Engineering was announced as an official Department of Defense (DoD) initiative in June of 2018, the same month this CRADA took effect. The DoD’s subsidiary Office for Research and Engineering recognizes the need to “stay ahead of demands” to “address long-standing challenges associated with complexity, uncertainty, and rapid change in deploying and using U.S. defense systems.” This ongoing work between NSWC PHD and Aerial Alchemy additionally serves to fulfil all five points of the DoD’s Digital Engineering Strategy, most notably, to “formalize the development, integration, and use of models to inform enterprise and program decision making” (Digital Engineering Strategy, 2018). 

Perhaps the big race of our day is, in fact, the contest of gaining a mastery of the utilization of unmanned systems and their invaluable data. The advantage this gives NSWC PHD, the U.S. Navy, and Department of Defense as a whole has yet to be seen in its entirety, yet the research demonstrated under the CRADA betweenAerial Alchemy and the laboratory of Port Hueneme Division continues to offer a leg-up to the United States by manifesting the beginnings of an effective long-term maintenance system. The unparalleled accuracy of corrosion tracking and digital twin engineering capabilitiesgenerated during this research stand to reducemaintenance costs and be among the most innovative new capabilities to the fleet. In conclusion, consider this quote from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defenseand its relevance to this undertaking: “By providing a more agile and responsive development environment, digital engineering supports engineering excellence and provides a foundation to fight and win the wars of the future.”


Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Engineering. “Digital Engineering Goals and Focus Areas.” Digital Engineering Strategy, June 2018,


“Services.” Aerial Alchemy,

United States, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme, Navy Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. NCRADA-NSWC PHD-18-0004, 2018

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