COTS stabilizer keeps UAV sensors steady at high altitudes

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. - A stabilization package for electro-optical sensors developed by Graflex Inc. of Riviera Beach, Fla., is putting advanced sensor technology into a variety of commercial and military applications ranging from traffic control in Los Angeles using forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Israel.

Apr 1st, 1998

By John Rhea

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. - A stabilization package for electro-optical sensors developed by Graflex Inc. of Riviera Beach, Fla., is putting advanced sensor technology into a variety of commercial and military applications ranging from traffic control in Los Angeles using forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Israel.

Brad Ganther, president of Graflex, will not talk about military customers, but officials of the government of Israel have acknowledged that their Pioneer UAV uses a Graflex stabilizer to identify targets at about 7 miles using a 512-millimeter by 27-power motorized zoom lens with a 0.7 degree field of view.

Another Middle Eastern customer has put a stabilized sensor package on the end of a 100-foot articulated boom mounted on a 20-ton fire truck for battlefield surveillance using Graflex equipment.

Ganther does maintain that stabilization is the key to making UAVs effective in the surveillance role. The same technology can also apply to helicopters and in fiber-optic-guided missiles, an idea that U.S. Army officials have dropped but which Israeli defense officials are continuing.

U.S. Army officials are still haunted by their failures in the 1970s with the overdesigned, excessively expensive Aquila UAV (sarcastically called the "Batmobile" by some of its critics). Ganther, however, says UAVs should be a high growth market if the stabilization problem can be solved.

A typical stabilized sensor package includes a high-resolution TV camera with a long-range telephoto zoom lens, a FLIR for night operations, and a laser rangefinder/designator, all mounted on a stabilized platform.

The big-ticket items are the laser rangefinder/designators, which run $30,000 and up. The stabilization platforms for UAVs with a 27-power zoom capability run around $5,000.

Using the gyro-stabilized platform enables the UAVs to fly higher to get a better view of the battlefield than they can without this device. Graflex officials are also offering a 54-power model based on the 27-power model with a motorized 2-power extender.

The packages operate equally well with monochrome or color closed circuit TV and come in commercial and militarized versions. They weigh about 4.5 pounds.

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