MMIST, an Ottawa company that helped to invent logistics UAVs (ULAV) with its Sherpa gliding and SnowGoose powered parafoils – on active service with the armed forces of several countries – has broken the 10,000-pound cargo barrier, showing military, commercial and humanitarian customers that it can deliver freight farther, faster, safer and for a lot less money.

Under “reduced expense,” operators can include lower green house gas emissions, reduced weather delays, fewer runways in remote or sensitive areas, zero noise impact on herd animals and no collisions with migrating birds, says MMIST president Sean McCann.

ULAVs make an immediate cost and safety difference where cargo delivery now calls for convoys, STOL (short take-off and landing) and helicopter landings, ice roads or sometimes no delivery at all. In theatre, while IEDs have increased risk on the ground, Precision Aerial Delivery has been cutting the cost of cargo delivery. The autonomous, GPS -guided Sherpa and SnowGoose enable stand-off drops for aircrew safety and precision landings that expose ground forces to less risk. That means a cost effective alternative to convoys. In fact, for many logistics missions, the number of soldiers involved drops by up to 95 percent.

In another scenario, the 10,000-pound Sherpa and SnowGoose systems would enable Canadian Forces Search and Rescue to deliver MAJAID (Major Air Disaster) kits from C-130s and C-17s to more types of terrain in more types of weather. For humanitarian relief, precision airdrop extends the long reach of the Globemaster III while significantly lowering operating costs, delivering thousands of pounds of cargo, within hours, anywhere in the world – not just close, but within 100 metres of where it is supposed to be.

SnowGoose Bravo
The Sherpa and SnowGoose parafoils both drop from aircraft and steer to their destination. The SnowGoose, however, goes one better. It can also launch from a Humvee-type vehicle, and its motor allows greater stand-off and range, loiter capability for surveillance and reconnaissance or relay applications, and the ability to release cargo and fly back to a recovery location.

Now the SnowGoose Bravo variant takes a great leap forward, literally, with autogryo-enabled, near-VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) launch capability. The Bravo will not only deliver cargo beyond roads, in bad weather, with no risk to human operators, it will self-recover to keep making deliveries again and again. With a pair of Bravo aircraft, two operators can deliver 2400 pounds of cargo a day out to 150 kilometres. Forward bases can themselves be replenished by Sherpa airdrops. MMIST visualizes operations in which helicopters transport people to a forward base and return with the Sherpa parafoils, so fixed wing never need to land for cargo missions and the helicopters, instead of returning empty, complete the backhaul. In another scenario, the unmanned near-VTOL Bravo could retrieve the guided parafoils. Bravo capability will be available as a kit for existing operators and the standard SnowGoose parafoil can be replaced with the autogyro “wing” in the field.

Flying the last mile
MMIST has been developing ULAVs for almost ten years and McCann has always been careful to put the capability in context. He does not expect his systems to replace trucks, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft or to completely eliminate conventional “dumb round” parachutes, but where they make sense, he does expect operators to recognize the new economics of ULAVs.

“To get the Sherpa and the SnowGoose accepted at all, we had to demonstrate really low operator training and workload, we had to fit right in with the existing logistics system and we had to show results right away. We did those things but the next part might be a little tougher,” McCann said. “We have to demonstrate that in a lot of situations, we are a lot less expensive.”

Up until now, he said, UAVs have been seen as pricey but worth the money in the right operational context. McCann’s challenge is to get persuasive numbers and put them in front of the right people. “In a continuing support situation, we cut the number of take-offs and landings in half. Less fuel, less stress on crews and airframes, less time to get the stuff delivered. With economics like that, we can even deliver packages at a surprisingly low cost, let alone 10,000-pound loads. Can ULAVs compete with ice roads? Maybe not today. But what happens when a warmer climate changes the costs of an ice road with late freeze and early thaw? MMIST has a proven answer.”