Navy Experiments With Flight Line of the Future Tagging Technology

Engineers from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division apply a fiducial tag aboard a T-6 Texan to autonomously capture arrival and departure data during ground operations in an experiment at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland in 2022. (Image: U.S. Navy)

The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) recently conducted flight line of the future experimentation with artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to independently identify and track aircraft on the flight line with tagging, commonly known as QR codes.

The technology promises to greatly improve aircraft readiness and maintenance turnaround time by providing more accurate location and status information for aircraft and related support equipment.

This experiment, designed to be representative of realistic fleet operations, is a follow-on to the 5G Identification of Support Equipment system experimentation (5GISE) completed in January 2022.

“After completing 5GISE, the engineers studied the current aircraft tracking method for departures and arrivals and devised a new approach,” said Kevin Larkins, NAWCAD Lakehurst Digital Engineering Division’s acting chief engineer.

This tagging technology uses software developed by the NAWCAD Lakehurst Digital Engineering Division’s software team and a camera placed at a fixed location. The information captured autonomously registers as an aircraft taxies through the camera’s field of view.

Initial experiment phases occurred in a lab setting. Through a collaboration with the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, the NAWCAD Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration (RPED) team conducted advanced testing phases. This real-world environment presented opportunities to test the technology with T-6 and T-38 aircraft.

“We hope for this to be the first of many NAWCAD RPED project collaborations,” said Dan Bramos, NAWCAD RPED Maintenance and Logistics Experimentation Lead.

Tagging information can be integrated into other aspects of the flight line of the future, or maintenance and operations. NAWCAD RPED’s future concept involves integrating this technology into a user interface for previously experimented technologies such as a next-generation flight line tracking system.