S-Plane launches new UAV control system


Local UAV company S-Plane has unveiled its new Paragon command and control system, able to control multiple UAVs simultaneously.

Paragon was officially launched at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition last month. The system is essentially a 3D world in which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), waypoints and other metadata are all objects that can be manipulated and controlled graphically by the operator. UAV sensor data can be viewed and projected onto the map, and as more data is gathered, more detail is added to the map. “This is the first of its kind as far as we know…there has been a lot of interest,” said Dr Iain Peddle, Chief Technical Officer at S-Plane.

Paragon allows the operator to control multiple UAVs as well as their payloads and can plot sensor swathe areas so that maximum coverage is obtained by aircraft sensors. An archiving function allows specific imagery to be reviewed in high definition. The system can be run on mobile devices such as rugged tables and laptops connecting to S-Plane’s ground data terminals wirelessly for freedom of operation.

S-Plane was established in 2008 and specialises in UAV flight control units and avionics with a focus on reliable subsystems. S-Plane started with flight control systems but now offers things like payload management units, power management systems etc. All software is developed in-house and all hardware is manufactured in South Africa.

Some of its main subsystems include the xSERIES control units for larger UAVs that address functions like flight control, navigation, power and payload management. Launched at AAD was the nxSERIES, which are smaller units aimed at more compact aircraft.

In addition to manufacturing control systems and software, S-Plane has built two UAVs: the Swift and Nightingale. The Swift was built as a demonstrator for subsystems but is now offered as an operational aircraft. It has a wingspan of 7.5 metres and is powered by a UEL AR-741 rotary engine, giving an endurance of 12 hours and ceiling of 18 000 feet. It can carry two payloads, including an electro-optical/infrared turret and radar etc.

The Nightingale small UAV was built in conjunction with the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), which wanted to airdrop medical samples. Three Nightingales were built in conjunction with the South African Civil Aviation Authority and NHLS. 75 flights were flown without failure. However, the NHLS programme is on hold. Peddle said S-Plane was very interested in pursuing the medical role for UAVs and that countries with large rural areas can benefit from the system.

However, Peddle noted that S-Plane is more focused on subsystems rather than complete systems. “We see ourselves as an upgrade, refurbishment, system integration and design and engineering house.”