Today witnessed the opening of the Paris Air Show, a biennial trade fair and air show where airlines from around the world come together to showcase their latest innovations.
Making its debut at the show this year is Atlas, a drone startup founded by Ivan Tolchinsky that is supplying the Ukrainian military with a large number of small drones. Unlike consumer-grade quadcopters, which are widely used for reconnaissance, artillery targeting and bombing, these quadcopters have military-grade communications capabilities and are not easily jammed. Russian jamming shoots down thousands of civilian drones every month. While Atlas is touting their jam-resistant drones, they have a new innovation to show off in Paris: a tether system that offers unlimited flight time. This approach has been tried before, with little success. This time though there is a real killer app.
Called AtlasTETHER, it connects the drone directly to a ground controller, which provides the 220Vac power to 400Vdc conversion the drone needs and allows it to hover indefinitely. The device can draw power from a power outlet, a generator or an on-board charger. The tether also provides two-way communication with the UAV, so a radio link is not required. In addition to insulating the UAV from radio interference, this means that neither the UAV nor the ground controller emits radio, so they cannot be detected by electronic warfare systems and positioned for targeting. If tethered power and communications are interrupted, the drones can land automatically using batteries.
Atlas has partnered with French company Elistair, which describes itself as a “tethered drone company” and has demonstrated 50 hours of continuous flight with its Orion 2 small electric drone. AtlasTETHER applies the same technology to the AtlasPRO drone with battlefield sensors.
Tethered drones have been around for more than half a century, but with little success. Beginning in 1972, the (West) German Army actually began using tethered Dornier Kiebitz observation drones. This was to carry airborne radar, radio detection and other equipment to an operating altitude of 985 feet. However, the drones did not cope well with strong winds and were considered of limited use. The program was cancelled in 1981.