WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — A CubCrafters XCub is poised to make a big impact on military personnel recovery.
The general aviation aircraft was recently purchased by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for its initial “Lysander” flying experiment, which will demonstrate the Low Altitude Sensing Helmet system, known as LASH.
LASH, a portable kit developed by the AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing’s Airman Systems Directorate, contains specialized equipment, including a flight helmet, a thermal camera, night vision goggles, and various other components.
The kit can quickly and easily be installed onto nearly any general aviation aircraft to equip pilots for low-level, low-speed, nighttime flight — something that is essential for personnel recovery and other “featherweight airlift” special missions, according to Dr. Darrel G. Hopper, 711th Human Performance Wing project lead.
“The Air Force’s CODE (Combat Operations in Denied Environment) program determined that these types of missions could not be executed effectively by the large aircraft that we have been using over the last 20 years in areas where we have air dominance,” Hopper said. “Project Lysander was conceived as a method of rescuing isolated personnel in both heavily defended and undefended airspace. A critical element of the project was determined to be a carry-on kit that could allow such operations.”
He explained that the LASH system kit was designed to fill this need and provide pilots with sensory situational awareness required to fly safely, at night, at extremely low altitudes and slow airspeeds.
Hopper explained that LASH came about after the Air Combat Command and the Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office at AFRL asked the 711th Human Performance Wing’s Airman Systems Directorate to lead this research effort.
“They called on us based on our expertise in this type of work,” Hopper explained. “Our directorate has decades of experience in researching, developing and fielding helmet- and cockpit-mounted displays and other wearable vision aids for combat pilots, aircrews, and special operations warriors.”
After careful study of mission requirements and aircraft capabilities, AFRL researchers designed the LASH kit using a number of mostly commercial-off-the-shelf components. The kit was packaged into a compact, easy-to-transport, one-person carrying system that could be easily fitted temporarily to virtually any small aircraft without additional modification.
Hopper said the CubCrafters XCub was identified as the safest and most capable commercial-off-the-shelf aircraft for the initial flying experiment to test the LASH System kit.
“If we can demonstrate that the XCub can be flown safely at night at low speed and low altitude using the LASH night vision aids, then we can expand LASH system kit use to other types of short takeoff and landing general aviation aircraft.”
The XCub will first be used to fit-test the LASH system. Researchers will next refine the installation and de-installation process, as well as baseline-test metrics, and develop the associated test cards, while flying without the kit.
The first flights with the LASH system are scheduled for early spring 2021. If flight tests are successful and program objectives are achieved, the LASH system could be on track for possible deployment as early as 2022, Air Force officials said.
“This system offers the potential to greatly expand our capability to perform necessary personnel recovery and related missions,” Hopper said. “The acquisition and delivery of this test vehicle is a critical milestone in getting the LASH technology and featherweight airlift capability into the hands of the warfighter.”
Hopper added that after the XCub test aircraft has completed its role in this project, AFRL will be able to use it as a test asset for future research projects as well.
There’s another point everyone here is missing. A “real” mission ready CC could be modified with a super-duper muffler and be very quiet as it wandered about looking for the downed aviator and to reconnoiter the vicinity for bad guys. That said, with the proliferation of drones already in the military inventory, I don’t understand why one of them couldn’t be used. This airplane will require a pilot or two risking more lives in a denied airspace environment.
I’m with Bob … someone in the AFRL probably had a pathway to funding and convinced someone to buy one of these things to try out.
I’m betting the story being spread here is a “cover” for something else.
James Carter says
Have all the O-1s and O-2s been demolished by now? If not, then why not bring a couple out of the graveyard for this testing? They’re already paid for and refurbishment couldn’t be nearly the cost of a new Cub Crafter bird.
Terk Williams says
Interesting! We are all the way back to an inexpensive, low and slow but heavily augmented/capable bird. Exactly what tge Lysander, Storch and L 13 did. Even the “Grasshopper” program w Cubs n Tcraft in WWII AND Korea recognized this mission. I like it!…. and I know something of this. I was “Dustoff” in RVN and “Harbormaster” (ran all maritime SAR/CSAR) in Desert Storm.
John Ouellette says
Better loiter time due to fuel useage?
This seems a not very funny joke? Saying that the CC aircraft is “safest and most capable commercial-off-the-shelf aircraft” is simply not the truth. To think a cub clone would be a better choice for the tasks mentioned than a helicopter is fantasy. Probably someone in the LASH skunk works really wanted to fly a CC?
What benefit would a low flying, slow airspeed plane have over just using a helicopter for personnel recovery, etc.? Not to mention the low useful load that would be normal for an aircraft of this type. I am not a military operator, so I am likely missing some scenario in which this type of STOL aircraft could be beneficial.
The XCub has a range of 700 nmi and endurance of 6 hours, so it’s a better platform for searching than a helicopter. Once the party is located, presumably a helicopter would be the choice to perform the rescue.