Air Force funds research for remotely piloted aircraft

  • Published
  • By 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office
Although the development of remotely piloted aircraft began in the 1950s, they are increasingly used by both military and commercial customers and provide a promising new chapter in the history of aviation.

As the technology’s potential grows, so does the need for technologies that provide enhanced situational awareness for the aircraft operator and improved safety while operating during military operations.

The Department of Defense is developing an airborne sense-and-avoid (SAA) capability to improve the agility of remotely piloted aircraft and allow them to make autonomous collision avoidance maneuvers.

These aircraft support the Air Force’s global mission, and work in this technology area assists the Federal Aviation Administration in verifying and validating minimum operation standards for air traffic control of these systems so that they can be safely integrated into the National Airspace System.

The Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program office is providing nearly $1.5 million to develop and mature technologies that support the SAA program, focusing on electro-optical sensors for detecting and tracking potential obstacles. Research conducted by Defense Research Associates, Inc., a veteran-owned small business located in Beavercreek, Ohio, is expected to uncover other technologies that will improve SAA systems and prepare them for transition to engineering and manufacturing development and initial low-rate production.

In addition to the SBIR funding, this program leverages more than $2 million in additional funding from the Airborne Sense and Avoid program, managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. These funds will help ensure the Phase II effort graduates into a Phase III program that successfully transitions its technologies into military or private sectors.

The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs are mission-oriented programs that integrate the needs and requirements of the Air Force through research and development topics that have military and commercial potential. The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development (R&D) through small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities.

Since 2006, the Commercialization Readiness Program has directly linked Air Force centers to Air Force Research Laboratory technical points of contact to identify and evaluate Air Force needs and innovative solutions. Its primary objective is to accelerate the transition of SBIR/STTR-developed technologies into real-world military and commercial applications.

The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs provide more than $300 million in funding for research and development activities by small businesses annually. With this budget, the Air Force funds research from the early stages of concept development until it transitions to military or commercial use.

For more information about these programs, please call the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Office at 1-800-222-0336, email, or visit our website at