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Title:
AIRCRAFT COUPLING METHOD AND SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/181117
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
AIRCRAFT COUPLING METHOD AND SYSTEM Disclosed is a method and apparatus for physically coupling together a first aircraft (102) and a second aircraft (104), for example for the purpose of performing air-to-air refuelling. The first aircraft (102) is an aircraft in flight. The second aircraft (104) is an aircraft in flight. The method comprises: sending, from a transmitter (112, 114, 116) located on the first aircraft (102), an electromagnetic signal; receiving, by a receiver (118) located on the second aircraft (104), the signal; and controlling, by one or more processors (120), using the signal received by the second aircraft (104), at least one of the first and second aircraft (104) such that the first and second aircraft (104) are in a predetermined configuration in which the first and second aircraft (104) are physically coupled together, for example attached together. (Figure 1)

Inventors:
CROCKETT, Robert, Mark (Bae Systems, Applied IntelligenceWest Hanningfield Road,Great Baddow, Chelmsford Essex CM2 8HN, CM2 8HN, GB)
COUSINS, Gary, Alexander (Bae Systems, Applied Intelligence LabsWest Hanningfield Road,Great Baddow, Chemlsford Essex CM2 8HN, CM2 8HN, GB)
Application Number:
GB2016/051314
Publication Date:
November 17, 2016
Filing Date:
May 09, 2016
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
BAE SYSTEMS PLC (6 Carlton Gardens, London SW1Y 5AD, SW1Y 5AD, GB)
International Classes:
B64D39/00
Foreign References:
US8010287B12011-08-30
US8712608B22014-04-29
EP1868008A12007-12-19
EP1424283A12004-06-02
US20080265097A12008-10-30
US6889941B12005-05-10
Other References:
PETER R. THOMAS ET AL: "Advances in air to air refuelling", PROGRESS IN AEROSPACE SCIENCES, vol. 71, 1 November 2014 (2014-11-01), GB, pages 14 - 35, XP055221251, ISSN: 0376-0421, DOI: 10.1016/j.paerosci.2014.07.001
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BAE SYSTEMS PLC, GROUP IP DEPT (PO Box 87, Farnborough Aerospace Centre, Farnborough Hampshire GU14 6YU, GU14 6YU, GB)
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Claims:
CLAIMS

1 . A method of physically coupling together a first aircraft and a second aircraft, the first aircraft being an aircraft in flight, the second aircraft being an aircraft in flight, the method comprising: sending, from a transmitter located on the first aircraft, an electromagnetic signal; receiving, by a receiver located on the second aircraft, the signal; determining, by one or more processors, using the signal received by the second aircraft, determining a position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft; and controlling, by one or more processors, using the determined position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft, at least one of the first and second aircraft such that the first and second aircraft are in a predetermined configuration in which the first and second aircraft are physically coupled together.

2. A method according to claim 1 further comprising providing that the transmitter and receiver are configurable to operate in a ranging mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a first modulation scheme, the first modulation scheme being suitable for ranging.

3. A method according to claim 1 or claim 2 wherein the first modulation scheme is an ultra-wideband modulation scheme.

4. A method according to claim 1 , 2 or 3 further comprising providing that the transmitter and receiver are configurable to operate in a data link mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a second modulation scheme, the second modulation scheme being suitable for data transfer and different to the first modulation scheme.

5. A method according to claim 4 when dependent on claim 2 or 3 comprising switching at least once between operating in the ranging mode and operating in the datalink mode.

6. A method according to claim 5 wherein the transmitter and receiver are configured for operation in the ranging mode as the aircraft are manoeuvred into the predetermined configuration, and switch to being configured in the datalink mode once the predetermined configuration is established.

7. A method according to any of claims 1 to 6, the method further comprising performing an air-to-air refuelling process including, when the first and second aircraft are physically coupled together, causing aircraft fuel to flow between the first and second aircraft via a coupling between the first and second aircraft.

8. A method according to claim 7, wherein the transmitter on the first aircraft is located at position on the first aircraft selected from a group of positions consisting of: a refuelling drogue of the first aircraft via which aircraft fuel may be transferred from the first aircraft to the second aircraft; and a probe of the first aircraft via which aircraft fuel may be received by the first aircraft from the second aircraft.

9. A method according to any of claims 1 to 8, wherein the signal is a radio frequency signal having a frequency within a frequency band selected from the group of frequency bands consisting of: a 2GHz to 5GHz frequency band, a 3GHz to 5GHz frequency band, a 50GHz to 70GHz frequency band, a 57GHz to 66GHz frequency band, and a 60GHz to 61 GHz frequency band.

10. A method according to any of claims 1 to 9, wherein the method further comprises: sending, from the first aircraft, at least one further signal; and receiving, by the second aircraft, each further signal; and the step of controlling is performed using each of the further signals received by the second aircraft.

1 1 . A method according to claim 10, wherein: the signal and each of the further signals are sent from a respective transmitter on the first aircraft; each of the transmitters has a different position on the first aircraft; and the signal and each of the further signals includes a respective identifier that indicates from which transmitter that signal was sent.

12. A method according to claim 1 1 , wherein each of the transmitters has a position on the first aircraft selected from the group of positions consisting of: a position at or proximate to a first wing of the first aircraft; a position at or proximate to a second wing of the first aircraft, the second wing being opposite to the first wing; a position at or proximate to a first horizontal stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft; a position at or proximate to a second horizontal stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft, the second horizontal stabiliser being opposite to the first horizontal stabiliser; and a position at or proximate to a vertical stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft.

13. A method according to any of claims 1 to 12, wherein: the method further comprises sending, from second aircraft to the first aircraft, an initial signal; receiving, by the first aircraft, the initial signal; and each of the signals sent from the first aircraft to the second aircraft are sent in response to the initial signal being received by the first aircraft.

14. An unmanned aircraft comprising: a receiver configured to receive an electromagnetic signal transmitted by a further aircraft; one or more processors configured to: using the received signal, determine a position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft; and using the determined position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft, control the unmanned aircraft so as to move the unmanned aircraft into a predetermined configuration with the further aircraft and cause the unmanned aircraft to be physically coupled to the further aircraft; and means for physically coupling to the further aircraft.

15. A system comprising: an unmanned aircraft according to claim 14; and a further aircraft comprising a transmitter configured to send, from the further aircraft to the unmanned aircraft, an electromagnetic signal.

16. Apparatus for physically coupling together a first aircraft and a second aircraft while the first aircraft and the second aircraft are in flight, the apparatus comprising: a transmitter located on the first aircraft, the transmitter being configured to send an electromagnetic signal; a receiver located on the second aircraft, the receiver being configured to receive the signal; one or more processors configured to: using the signal received by the second aircraft, determine a position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft; and control, using the determined position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft, at least one of the first and second aircraft such that the first and second aircraft are in a predetermined configuration in which the first and second aircraft are physically coupled together.

17. An unmanned aircraft according to claim 14, 15 or 16 wherein the receiver and/or transmitter is operable in either a ranging mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a first modulation scheme, the first modulation scheme being suitable for ranging or a data link mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a second modulation scheme, the second modulation scheme being suitable for data transfer and different to the first modulation scheme.

Description:
AIRCRAFT COUPLING METHOD AND SYSTEM

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to the physical coupling together of aircraft flight, for example, for the purposes of air-to-air refuelling.

BACKGROUND

Air-to-air refuelling, also known as aerial refuelling and in-flight refuelling, is the process of transferring fuel from one aircraft (a tanker) to another aircraft during flight.

Typically, the use of radio frequency (RF) communications during air-to- air refuelling operations is not permitted due to the risk of fuel ignition.

For manned aircraft, communication via lights and hand signals is implemented. However, such methods of communication tend not to be useable for unmanned aircraft.

In a separate field to the field of aircraft refuelling, it is often desirable to transfer data, for example mission data, from an unmanned aircraft to a different entity (e.g. a different aircraft).

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present inventors have realised that, for the air-to-air refuelling of aircraft, it is desirable to have one or more operational data links between a tanker and the receiver aircraft for the purposes of navigation, maintenance of flight formation, and/or control of the refuelling process. The present inventors have realised that as communications frequency increases, the risk of fuel ignition tends to decrease. Also, the present inventors have realised that communication frequencies in the range 57GHz to 66GHz, e.g. around 60GHz, provide decreased risk of fuel ignition, for example, due to increased oxygen absorption of those communication signals. Also, the present inventors have realised that communication frequencies in the range 57GHz to 66GHz tend to be relatively covert, for example, due to increased oxygen absorption of those communication signals. The inventors have further realised that narrow beam width antennas may be used to further enhance the covertness of the communications.

The present inventors have realised that properties of communication frequencies in the range 57GHz to 66GHz that are typically regarded as disadvantageous (for example, the relatively high absorption by oxygen of those signals) provide a number of advantages when implemented during aircraft refuelling operations.

The present inventors have realised that air-to-air refuelling operations provide an opportunity to implement short-range, high bandwidth communication links for data transfer between a tanker and receiver aircraft.

In a first aspect, the present invention provides a method of physically coupling together a first aircraft and a second aircraft. The first aircraft may be an aircraft in flight. The second aircraft may be an aircraft in flight. The method comprises: sending, from a transmitter located on the first aircraft, an electromagnetic signal (e.g. a radio frequency or optical signal); receiving, by a receiver located on the second aircraft, the signal; and controlling, by one or more processors, using the signal received by the second aircraft, at least one of the first and second aircraft such that the first and second aircraft are in a predetermined configuration in which the first and second aircraft are physically coupled together.

The method may comprise providing that the transmitter and receiver are configurable to operate in a ranging mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a first modulation scheme, the first modulation scheme being suitable for ranging. The first modulation scheme may be an ultra-wideband modulation scheme.

The method may comprise providing that the transmitter and receiver are configurable to operate in a data link mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a second modulation scheme, the second modulation scheme being suitable for data transfer and different to the first modulation scheme.

The method my comprise switching at least once between operating in the ranging mode and operating in the datalink mode. In particular, the transmitter and receiver may be configured for operation in the ranging mode as the aircraft are manoeuvred into the predetermined configuration, and switch to being configured in the datalink mode once the predetermined configuration is established.

The method may comprise determining, by the one or more processors, using the signal received by the second aircraft, relative positions of the first and second aircraft. The step of controlling may include controlling, by the one or more processors, using the determined relative positions, at least one of the first and second aircraft such that the first and second aircraft are in the predetermined configuration. The predetermined configuration may be such that the first and second aircraft are physically attached together.

At least one of the first and second aircraft may be an unmanned aircraft.

The method may further comprise performing an air-to-air refuelling process. The air-to-air refuelling process may include, when the first and second aircraft are coupled together, causing aircraft fuel to flow between the first and second aircraft via a coupling therebetween.

The transmitter on the first aircraft may be located at position on the first aircraft selected from a group of positions consisting of: a refuelling drogue of the first aircraft via which aircraft fuel may be transferred from the first aircraft to the second aircraft; and a probe of the first aircraft via which aircraft fuel may be received by the first aircraft from the second aircraft.

The signal may be a radio frequency (RF) signal. The signal may have a frequency within a frequency band selected from the group of frequency bands consisting of: a 2GHz to 5GHz frequency band, a 3GHz to 5GHz frequency band, a 50GHz to 70GHz frequency band, a 57GHz to 66GHz frequency band, and a 60GHz to 61 GHz frequency band. The signal may have a frequency of 60GHz or 60.5GHz.

Sending or transmitting the signal from one aircraft to the other aircraft may be performed responsive to the aircraft being within a predetermined separation distance of each other. The predetermined separation distance may, for example be 1 km, 400m, 300m, 100m, or some function of a wing span of an aircraft (for example, 2 x the wing span of an aircraft).

The step of controlling may comprise, using the signal received by the second aircraft, determining a position of one aircraft relative to the other aircraft.

The method may further comprise: sending, from the first aircraft, at least one further signal, and receiving, by the second aircraft, each further signal. The step of controlling may be performed using each of the further signals received by the second aircraft. The signal and each of the further signals may be sent from a respective transmitter on the first aircraft. Each of the transmitters may have a different position on the first aircraft. The signal and each of the further signals may include a respective identifier that indicates from which transmitter that signal was sent. Each of the transmitters may have a position on the first aircraft selected from the group of positions consisting of: a position at or proximate to a first wing of the first aircraft; a position at or proximate to a second wing of the first aircraft, the second wing being opposite to the first wing; a position at or proximate to a first horizontal stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft; a position at or proximate to a second horizontal stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft, the second horizontal stabiliser being opposite to the first horizontal stabiliser; and a position at or proximate to a vertical stabiliser of an empennage of the first aircraft.

The method may further comprise sending, from second aircraft to the first aircraft, an initial signal, and receiving, by the first aircraft, the initial signal. Each of the signals sent from the first aircraft to the second aircraft may be sent in response to the initial signal being received by the first aircraft.

The one or more processors may be located on the second aircraft. The step of controlling may comprise controlling, by the one or more processors, the second aircraft such that the second aircraft moves so as to couple to the first aircraft.

The electromagnetic signal may be a radio frequency signal. The electromagnetic signal may be an optical signal.

In a further aspect, the present invention provides apparatus for physically coupling together a first aircraft and a second aircraft. The first aircraft may be an aircraft in flight. The second aircraft may be an aircraft in flight. The apparatus comprises: a transmitter located on the first aircraft and configured to send, from first aircraft to the second aircraft, an electromagnetic signal; a receiver located on the second aircraft and configured receive the signal sent by the transmitter; and one or more processors configured to, using the signal received by the second aircraft, control at least one of the first and second aircraft such that the first and second aircraft are in a predetermined configuration in which the first and second aircraft are physically coupled together. In a further aspect, the present invention provides an unmanned aircraft comprising: a receiver configured to receive a signal transmitted by a further aircraft; one or more processors configured to, using the received signal, control the unmanned aircraft so as to move the unmanned aircraft into a predetermined configuration with the further aircraft and cause the unmanned aircraft to be physically coupled to the further aircraft; and means for physically coupling to the further aircraft.

In such further aspects, the receiver and/or transmitter may be operable in either a ranging mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a first modulation scheme, the first modulation scheme being suitable for ranging or a data link mode whereby the electromagnetic signal is communicated according to a second modulation scheme, the second modulation scheme being suitable for data transfer and different to the first modulation scheme.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS Figure 1 is a schematic illustration (not to scale) showing a scenario in which an embodiment of an aircraft positioning and data transfer system is implemented;

Figure 2 is a process flow chart showing certain steps of an autonomous refuelling process; and Figure 3 is a process flow chart showing certain steps of a process of determining a position and the orientation of one aircraft relative to a different aircraft, as performed during the process of Figure 2.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION Figure 1 is a schematic illustration (not to scale) showing a scenario 101 in which an embodiment of an aircraft positioning and data transfer system is implemented.

The scenario 101 comprises a fuel tanker aircraft 102, hereinafter referred to as "the tanker", and an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) 104. In this embodiment, the aircraft positioning and data transfer system is implemented to enable autonomous air-to-air refuelling of the UAV 104 from the tanker 102.

In this embodiment, the tanker 102 is a manned fuel-transporting aircraft. The tanker 102 comprises an under-wing refuelling pod 106, a refuelling hose 108, a drogue 1 10, a first transceiver 1 12, a second transceiver 1 14, and a third transceiver 1 16.

The refuelling pod 106 is an external pod attached to a hardpoint of the tanker 102. The refuelling pod 106 contains aircraft fuel which, as described in more detail later below with reference to Figure 2, is to be transferred to the UAV 104 during a refuelling operation. The refuelling pod 106 may include a pump for pumping aircraft fuel stored on the refuelling pod 106 to the UAV 104. The refuelling hose 108 is a flexible hose that is connected to the refuelling pod 106 such that, in operation, aircraft fuel may be transferred from the refuelling pod 106 through the hose 108. In operation, as shown in Figure 1 , the hose 108 trails behind the tanker 102. The drogue 1 10 is attached to the free end of the hose 108, i.e. the opposite end of the hose 108 to the end of the hose 108 that is attached to the refuelling pod 106. In this embodiment, the drogue 1 10 is a funnel-like, or cone- shaped, device that in operation, as described in more detail later below, attaches to the UAV 104 such that refuelling of the UAV 104 can take place. The drogue 1 10 tends to stabilise the hose 108 in flight. In this embodiment, the drogue 1 10 includes a valve to prevent aircraft fuel flowing out of the hose 108 until the UAV 104 is correctly docked with the hose 108 and drogue 1 10. In this embodiment, the diameter of the drogue 1 10 at its free end is approximately 1 m. The tanker 102 further comprises a Hose Drum Unit (not shown in the

Figures) that is coupled to the hose 108 and drogue 1 10 and is operable to reel in the hose 108 completely into the tanker 102 when the hose 108 and drogue 1 10 are not in use.

Each of the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 is independently switchable between two modes of operation, namely a "ranging mode" and a "data link mode".

When operating in ranging mode, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 use a first modulation scheme, which is suitable for ranging. For example an ultra-wideband (UWB) modulation. The ultra-wideband modulation may have the following characteristics: a pulse bandwidth of 2.7GHz; a centre frequency within the range 57GHz to 66 GHz; and a maximum range of 100m.

Advantageously, the 57GHz to 66GHz spectrum tends to support three 2.7GHz channels with guard bands.

When operating in data link mode, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 use a second modulation scheme, which is suitable for data transfer. For example a variable bandwidth and data rate Quadrature Phase Shift Keying (QPSK) digital modulation. In this embodiment, the data link mode has a variable data rate that is inversely related to the distance between the tanker 102 and the UAV 104 and operates over a range up to 1 km. In other words, the variable rate QPSK modem increases the data rate as the range between the UAV 104 and the tanker 102 reduces. At a 1 km range between the UAV 104 and the tanker 104, the data link may be used for exchanging, e.g., GPS position data between the UAV 104 and the tanker 102. Once the UAV 104 is docked with the tanker 102, the data link could be used to exchange, for example, mission data at higher data rate. As described in more detail later below, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are each configured to receive a signal broadcast from the UAV 104. Also, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are configured to send respective signals to the UAV 104 responsive to receiving a signal broadcast from the UAV 104. In this embodiment, the signals transmitted by the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 include respective identifiers identifying the transceiver from which that transmitted signal originated, i.e., a signal transmitted by the first transceiver 1 12 includes an identifier for the first transceiver 1 12, and so on.

In this embodiment, the first and second transceivers 1 12, 1 14 are mounted to respective wings of the tanker 102. In particular, the first transceiver 1 12 is located at or proximate to a free end of the left-hand wing of the tanker 102 (when viewed from above as shown in Figure 1 ). Also, the second transceiver 1 14 is located at or proximate to a free end of the right-hand wing of the tanker 102 (when viewed from above as shown in Figure 1 ). Locating the first and second transceivers 1 12, 1 14 at respective tanker wing tips tends to provide substantially maximum spacing between the first and second transceivers 1 12, 1 14 on-board the tanker 102. The third transceiver 1 16 is located on the tail of the aircraft.

The first, second and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are radio frequency (RF) transceivers configured to send and receive signals over a 60GHz RF link. As described in more detail later below, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are configured to transmit 60GHz RF signals to the UAV 104. Also, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are configured to receive 60GHz RF signals broadcast from the UAV 104.

In this embodiment, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are configured to, when operating in the ranging mode, have beam widths of approximately 90°. More preferably, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 have beam widths larger than 90° e.g. 180°. Also, these beams of the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are directed behind the tanker 102 along the longitudinal axis of the tanker 102.

In this embodiment, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 comprise respective phased array antennas configured to, when operating in the data link mode, provide a beam width of approximately 15° that can be scanned +/- 60° in both azimuth and elevation. When operated in the data link mode, the antennas tend to provide a higher gain that will support a longer range data link operation. Also, the electronically steered beams of the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are steered behind the tanker 102 in the direction of the UAV 104.

In some embodiments, the beam widths of the first, second, and/or third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 are the same in both ranging and data link modes.

In this embodiment, the UAV 104 comprises a fourth transceiver 1 18, a processor 120, a UAV controller 122, a global positioning system (GPS) transceiver 126, and a probe 128.

The fourth transceiver 1 18 has substantially the same characteristics as the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 described in more detail earlier above. The fourth transceiver 1 18 may be switched between operating in the ranging mode and the data link mode.

The fourth transceiver 1 18 is a radio frequency (RF) transceiver configured to send and receive signals over a 60GHz RF link. As described in more detail later below, the fourth transceiver 1 18 is configured to transmit 60GHz RF signals to one or more of the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 on-board the tanker 102. Also, the fourth transceiver 1 18 is configured to receive 60GHz RF signals broadcast from the first, second, and/or third transceiver 1 12, 1 14, 1 16.

In this embodiment, when operating in ranging mode, the fourth transceiver 1 18 has a beam width of approximately 90°. More preferably, the fourth transceiver 1 18 has a beam width larger than 90° e.g. 180°. Also, this beam of the fourth transceiver 1 18 is directed forward from the UAV 104 along the longitudinal axis of the UAV 104 towards the tanker 102.

As described in more detail later below, the fourth transceiver 1 18 is configured to, when operating in ranging mode, transmit a signal (hereinafter referred to as a "positioning signal") from the UAV 104 that is received by each of the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16. Also, the fourth transceiver 1 18 is configured to, when operating in ranging mode, receive "response signals" sent from the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 (i.e. signals sent from the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 responsive to those transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 receiving the signal transmitted by the fourth transceiver 1 18). The signals sent between the fourth transceiver 1 18 and the first transceiver 1 12 are indicated in Figure 1 by a dotted double- headed arrow and the reference numeral 130. The signals sent between the fourth transceiver 1 18 and the second transceiver 1 14 are indicated in Figure 1 by a dotted double-headed arrow and the reference numeral 132. The signals sent between the fourth transceiver 1 18 and the third transceiver 1 16 are indicated in Figure 1 by a dotted double-headed arrow and the reference numeral 133.

In this embodiment, the fourth transceiver 1 18 comprises a phased array antenna configured to, when operating in the data link mode, provide a beam width of approximately 15° that can be scanned +/- 60° in both azimuth and elevation. When operated in the data link mode, the antenna of the fourth transceiver 1 18 tends to provide a higher gain that will support a longer range data link operation. Also, the electronically steered beam of the fourth transceiver 1 18 is steered in front of the UAV 104 in the direction of the tanker 102. The fourth transceiver 1 18 is connected to the processor 120 such that the processor 120 may receive information from the fourth transceiver 1 18. Operation of the fourth transceiver 1 18 may be controlled by the processor 120.

The GPS receiver 126 is configured to receive GPS signals from a plurality of GPS satellites. The GPS receiver 126 is connected to the processor 120 such that the processor 120 may receive information from the GPS receiver 126. Operation of the GPS receiver 126 may be controlled by the processor 120.

As described in more detail later below with reference to Figure 2, the processor 120 is configured to process information received by it from the fourth transceiver 1 18, and the GPS receiver 126.

In addition to being connected to the fourth transceiver 1 18 and the GPS receiver 126, the processor 120 is also connected to the UAV controller 122 such that information, such as a control signal, may be sent from the processor 120 to the UAV controller 122.

The UAV controller 122 is configured to receive information from the processor 120 and control the UAV 104 in accordance with that received information.

In this embodiment, the probe 128 on-board the UAV 104 is a rigid, protruding arm located at or proximate to the nose of the UAV 104. Preferably, the probe 128 is retractable, and is retracted when not in use. The probe 128 is a hollow pipe which includes a valve. The valve of the probe 128 remains closed until the probe mates with (i.e. connects or attaches to) a forward internal receptacle of the drogue 1 10. Upon attachment of the probe 128 to the drogue 1 10, the valve of the probe 128 (and the valve of the drogue 1 10) open to allow aircraft fuel to pass from the tanker 102 to the UAV 104.

Preferably, the valves in the probe 128 and the drogue 1 10 conform to an appropriate standard.

Figure 2 is a process flow chart showing certain steps of a refuelling process performed by the entities shown in Figure 1 and described in more detail above. At step s2, the tanker 102 flies a straight and level course. In some embodiments, the tanker 102 may adopt a racetrack holding pattern.

At step s4, the processor 120 processes GPS signals received by the GPS receiver 126 from a plurality of GPS satellites. Using the processed GPS signals, the processor 120 controls, via the UAV controller 122, the UAV 104 to approach the tanker 102 from behind the tanker 102.

The processor 120 may also use a GPS location of the tanker 102 to position the UAV 104. Such a GPS position of the tanker 102 may be sent to the processor 120 from the tanker 102, for example, using any appropriate communication link between the tanker 102 and the UAV 104, e.g. a conventional RF communication link such as a Link-16 communication link, a Satcomms link, a UHF link, or an RF communication link operating within a 1 .5 to 5 GHz frequency band. In some embodiments, the GPS position of the tanker 102 may be sent to the processor 120 via the 60GHz data link between a transceiver 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 on-board the tanker 102 and the fourth transceiver 1 18.

In this embodiment, the UAV 104 is controlled to approach the rear of the tanker 102 at a constant speed and altitude.

In this embodiment, the UAV 104 is controlled by the processor 120 using the GPS signals until the UAV 104 is a predetermined distance from the tanker 102. This predetermined distance may be, for example, 100m or a different appropriate distance.

In some embodiments, once the UAV 104 is within the predetermined distance of the tanker 102 (or a different appropriate criterion or criteria is/are met), the RF communication links by which the tanker 102 and the UAV 104 may communicate in normal operations over relatively large distances, e.g. a Link-16 communication link or an RF communication link operating within a 1 .5 to 5 GHz frequency band, may be switched off. This switching-off or non-use of the "normal" RF communication links tends to reduce or eliminate a likelihood of fuel ignition caused by RF communication between the tanker 102 and the UAV 104. At step s6, once the UAV 104 is within the predetermined distance (e.g. 100m from the tanker 102, the fourth transceiver 1 18, operating in ranging mode, transmits a positioning signal from the UAV 104. In this embodiment, the positioning signal transmitted by the fourth transceiver 1 18 has a frequency of 60GHz. In other embodiments, the positioning signal transmitted by the fourth transceiver 1 18 has a different frequency. Preferably, the positioning signal has a frequency within a frequency band of 57GHz to 66GHz.

Thus, in this embodiment, GPS signals exchanged between the UAV 104 and the tanker 102 allow the UAV 104 to navigation to within, for example, 100m separation of the tanker 102. When the UAV 104 is within 100m of the tanker 102, the transceivers 1 12-1 18 operate in ranging mode, i.e. UWB positioning takes over from GPS positioning. In ranging mode, the transmitted signals between the transceivers 1 12-1 18 may be both wide bandwidth and wide beam width, thus signal range tends to be limited. For example, increasing the navigation beam width to 90° or 180° may reduce the range of the 60GHz signals to, for example, approximately 100m.

At step s8, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 each receive the positioning signal transmitted by the fourth transceiver 1 18.

At step s10, in response to receiving the positioning signal, the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 each transmit a respective response signal to the fourth transceiver 1 18. In this embodiment, the response signals transmitted by the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 include respective identifiers that identify from which transceiver 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 that signal was transmitted. In some embodiments, the ranging process is performed sequentially, with the fourth (UAV) transceiver 1 18 interrogating and determining a range to each of the first, second, and third (tanker) transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 in turn. Nevertheless, in some embodiments, the fourth transceiver 1 18 broadcasts a single common signal which is responded to by all recipient transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16.

In some embodiments, spread spectrum modulation where a different respective code is allocated to each of the three tanker transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 may be implemented. Three matched filters on the UAV 104 may be used to facilitate the simultaneous processing of the three signals received by the fourth transceiver 1 18.

At step s12, the fourth transceiver 1 18 receives the response signals transmitted by the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16. The received response signals are relayed from the fourth transceiver 1 18 to the processor 120.

At step s14, the processor 120 processes the response signals received by the fourth transceiver 1 18 to determine a position and orientation of the UAV 104 with respect to the tanker 102.

Figure 3 is a process flow chart showing certain steps of a process of determining the position and the orientation of the UAV 104 with respect to the tanker 102, as performed at step s14. Steps s16 to s24 of the process of Figure 2 will be described in more detail later below after the description of the process of Figure 3.

At step s26, the processor 120 determines the length of time between transmitting the positioning signal from the fourth transceiver 1 18 (performed at step s6) and receiving a response signal at the fourth transceiver 1 18 from the first transceiver 1 12. In other words, the processor 120 determines a time taken (or "time-of-flight") for a signal travelling from the fourth transceiver 1 18 to the first transceiver 1 12 and back (along communication link 130). This determined length of time is hereafter referred to as the "first duration".

At step s28, the processor 120 determines the length of time between transmitting the positioning signal from the fourth transceiver 1 18 (performed at step s6) and receiving a response signal at the fourth transceiver 1 18 from the second transceiver 1 14. In other words, the processor 120 determines a time taken (or "time-of-flight") for a signal travelling from the fourth transceiver 1 18 to the second transceiver 1 14 and back (along communication link 132). This determined length of time is hereafter referred to as the "second duration". At step s30, the processor 120 determines the length of time between transmitting the positioning signal from the fourth transceiver 1 18 (performed at step s6) and receiving a response signal at the fourth transceiver 1 18 from the third transceiver 1 16. In other words, the processor 120 determines a time taken (or "time-of-flight") for a signal travelling from the fourth transceiver 1 18 to the third transceiver 1 16 and back (along communication link 133). This determined length of time is hereafter referred to as the "third duration".

At step s32, using the determined first, second, and third durations, the speed of light, and the known positions of the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 in a coordinate frame fixed on the tanker 102, the processor 120 determines the ranges from the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 to the fourth transceiver 1 18, and subsequently the position of the fourth transceiver 1 18 in the coordinate frame fixed on the tanker 102.

In this embodiment, the processor 120 then determines the position of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102, for example using additional data (i.e. in addition to the determined durations, and the known positions of the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 in the coordinate frame fixed on the tanker 102). For example, the processor 120 may use data acquired from an inertial navigation system (INS) of the UAV 104 (e.g. roll, pitch, and yaw measurements of the UAV 104). Also for example, the processor 120 may use data acquired from the tanker 102, e.g. from an INS on the tanker 102 and/or GPS measurements of the tanker 102. Such data may be sent from the tanker 102 to the processor 120 on-board the UAV 104 via the 60GHz communication link established between the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16, 1 18. Also for example, the processor 120 may use GPS measurements of the UAV 104. Also for example, the processor 120 may use measurements of an angle in which the signal was transmitted by the fourth transceiver 1 18 to the tanker at step s6. Also for example, the processor 120 may use measurements of the angles in which one or more of the response signals were transmitted by the first, second, and/or third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 to the UAV 104 at step s10.

In some embodiments, the processor 120 uses a trilateration process to determine the relative positions of the transceivers 1 12-1 18. In some embodiments, the processor 120 uses a triangulation process to determine the relative positions of the transceivers 1 12-1 18. ln some embodiments, orientation of the UAV 104 is determined, for example, by tracking the motion of the UAV in the coordinate frame fixed on the tanker 102 to determine the time averaged heading of the UAV 104, and hence its orientation. In some embodiments, the relative positions of the transceivers mounted on the wings of the tanker 102 (i.e. the first and second transceivers 1 12, 1 14) are dynamically determined. This advantageously tends to account for wing flexion. In some embodiments, a larger number of transceivers are mounted to the tanker 102 to facilitate such a process. In some embodiments, strain gauges are embedded in the tanker wings and may be used to determine a degree of wing flexion. Using such strain gauge measurements, the position of the wing mounted transceivers in the tanker-centric coordinate frame may be determined.

Returning now to the description of Figure 2, at step s16, using the determined position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 determined by the processor 120, the UAV controller 122 controls the UAV 104 to fly in such a way that the probe 128 attaches to the forward internal receptacle of the drogue 1 10.

In this embodiment, the processor 120 sends control signals to the UAV controller 122 specifying how the UAV 104 should be moved, and the UAV controller 122 controls the UAV 104 in accordance with those received control signals.

In this embodiment, the processor 120 uses the known size/shape of the tanker 102, including the location of the drogue 1 10 relative to the first, second and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 to control the UAV 104 so as to connect the probe 128 to the drogue 1 10.

In this embodiment, during the controlling of the UAV 104 to dock with the drogue 1 10, measurements of the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 are updated, i.e. further positioning and response signals are sent between the transceivers 1 12-1 18 in the same way as that described above to provide updated position/orientation measurements. In this embodiment, the update rate in which the measurements of the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 are updated is 4Hz, which tends to be greater than the update rate achievable using GPS which may be around 1 Hz. The updated measurements of the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 are used to navigate the UAV 104 to dock with the drogue 1 10.

A 4Hz update rate tends to be useful at relatively large ranges (~1 km) between the tanker 102 and the UAV 104. A 4Hz update rate tends to be useful when the UAV's speed of approach to the tanker 102 is relatively slow. Larger update rates (>100Hz) may be implemented at smaller ranges between the tanker 102 and the UAV 104, for example, during a refuelling process. This advantageously tends to enable rapid response of the autonomous control system to any changes in relative positions of the tanker 102 and UAV 104.

At step s18, once the probe 128 is attached to the drogue 1 10, the valves of the probe 128 and the drogue 1 10 open, and fuel is caused to flow from the refuelling pod 106, along the hose 108 and the probe 128, and into a fuel tank of the UAV 104. Thus, the UAV 104 is refuelled.

At step s20, during the refuelling of the UAV 104, the UAV controller 122 maintains the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 such that the probe 128 remains connected to the drogue 1 10. In this embodiment, the maintaining of the position and orientation of the

UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 includes continuously updating measurements of the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102, and using those updated measurements to control the UAV 104. The measurements of the position and orientation of the UAV 104 relative to the tanker 102 are updated as described above, i.e. by transferring positioning/response signals between the transceivers located on the UAV 104 and the tanker 102, and processing those signals to determine updated position/orientation measurements.

At step s22, during the refuelling of the UAV 104 while the UAV 104 and the tanker 102 are maintained in relatively close proximity, mission data is uploaded from the UAV 104 to the tanker 102. In this embodiment, mission data is sent from the fourth transceiver 1 18 on the UAV 104 to one or more of the transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16 on the tanker 102 via one or more of the 60GHz communication links 130, 132, 133 established between the fourth transceiver 1 18 and each of the first, second, and third transceivers 1 12, 1 14, 1 16. Thus, in this embodiment, mission data is transferred from the UAV 104 to the tanker 102 as a 60GHz RF signal.

In some embodiments, mission data is downloaded from the tanker 102 to the UAV 104 via one or more of the 60GHz data communication links established between the UAV 104 and the tanker 102 instead of or in addition to mission data being uploaded to the tanker 102. In this embodiment, the 60GHz data communication links are restricted to a maximum RF bandwidth of 900MHz per channel. This tends to yield a raw data rate of 1 .5Gbits/s. In some embodiments, full bandwidth is only used when the UAV 104 and the tanker 102 are sufficiently close. At longer distances between the UAV 104 and the tanker 102, a relatively narrower filter may be used to achieve improved signal-to-noise characteristics.

At step s24, after the UAV 104 has been refuelled, the UAV controller 122 controls the UAV 104 to disengage from the drogue 1 10 and move away from the tanker 102.

Thus a refuelling process is provided. The above described system and method advantageously tend to provide for autonomous air-to-air refuelling of a UAV.

The above described RF positioning system advantageously tends to allow for the accurate positioning of the UAV relative to the tanker. For example, an error range less than ±0.44m (e.g. ±0.17m) on the position of the UAV relative to the tanker tends to be possible when the UAV is within 20m of the refuelling drogue. This tends to compare favourably to conventional GPS-based navigation systems which may give typical accuracies of ±3m on the position of an aircraft, and thus, an accuracy range of ±6m on the position of the UAV relative to the tanker. Furthermore, the update rate of the above described RF positioning system is advantageously high compared to that of conventional systems, for example, the update rate of the above described RF positioning system may be around 4Hz (or larger, e.g. >100Hz) compared to a 1 Hz updated rate of a GPS- based positioning system.

The above described system and method advantageously tend to facilitate the docking of an aircraft that is to be refuelled with the refuelling system of a different aircraft.

Advantageously, the spacing between the first and second transceivers on the tanker is substantially maximal. This tends to increase the accuracy of the determined position and orientation of the UAV relative to the tanker. Advantageously, the above described 60GHz communication links established between UAV and the tanker tend to allow for opportunistic mission data transfer to be performed while the UAV and tanker are relatively close together, e.g. during the refuelling process. Furthermore, mission system data may be uploaded from the UAV to the tanker, and the tanker may then relay that information to a third party, for example, via a satellite communication link. Thus, a satellite communication system may advantageously be omitted from the UAV, thereby reducing the weight of the UAV.

Use of a relatively high frequency (i.e. 60GHz) for the positioning system and the mission data transfer system advantageously tends to reduce the risk of fuel ignition compared to if lower frequencies were used. Furthermore, the absorption by oxygen of RF frequencies at 60GHz tends to be relatively high compared to the absorption by oxygen of RF signals having higher or lower frequencies. Thus, the above described 60GHz communication links between the UAV and the tanker tends to be relatively covert. Advantageously, during the final approach of the UAV to the tanker, while the UAV is attached to the refuelling drogue, and during initial departure of the UAV from the vicinity of the tanker, the range of the 60GHz communication link tends to be sufficiently short to support a high data rate. In particular, at short range (e.g. less than 300m), full duplex data transfer rates of 1 134Mbit/s tend to be supported. Thus, the above described 60GHz communication link advantageously tends to provide for short-range, rapid, non-contact data transfer. Furthermore, at relatively longer ranges between the UAV and the tanker (e.g. between 300m and 1 km), data rates of at least 10Mbit/s tend to be achievable.

Advantageously, the 60GHz communication link established between the tanker and UAV may be used to control fuel transfer. Advantageously, the 60GHz communication link established between the tanker and UAV may use a variable rate QPSK modem. This tends to increase the data rate as the range between UAV and tanker reduced. Hence at relatively large distances, for example 1 km, the communication/data link may be used for exchanging data, such as GPS position data, between the UAV and tanker at a low data rate. A relatively small distances, for example when the UAV is docked with the tanker, the communication/data link may be used to exchange data, for example mission data etc., at a higher data rate.

Apparatus, including the processor, for implementing the above arrangement, and performing the method steps to be described later below, may be provided by configuring or adapting any suitable apparatus, for example one or more computers or other processing apparatus or processors, and/or providing additional modules. The apparatus may comprise a computer, a network of computers, or one or more processors, for implementing instructions and using data, including instructions and data in the form of a computer program or plurality of computer programs stored in or on a machine readable storage medium such as computer memory, a computer disk, ROM, PROM etc., or any combination of these or other storage media.

It should be noted that certain of the process steps depicted in the flowcharts of Figures 2 and 3 and described above may be omitted or such process steps may be performed in differing order to that presented above and shown in Figures 2 and 3. Furthermore, although all the process steps have, for convenience and ease of understanding, been depicted as discrete temporally- sequential steps, nevertheless some of the process steps may in fact be performed simultaneously or at least overlapping to some extent temporally. In the above embodiments, a single UAV is refuelled by a single tanker aircraft. However, in other embodiments there is a different number of aircraft to be refuelled (receiver aircraft) e.g. multiple UAVs. In some embodiments, multiple receiver aircraft are refuelled by a single tanker aircraft, for example, a tanker aircraft comprising multiple refuelling pods and hose/drogue assemblies. In some embodiments, there are multiple tanker aircraft. In some embodiments in which there are multiple receiver aircraft, each receiver aircraft may comprise a respective mission data transfer system transceiver and a communication link (e.g. a 60GHz link) may be established between the tanker and each of the receiver aircraft. These multiple communication links may be used to control the receiver aircraft such that they maintain a desired formation while queuing for refuelling. Such a formation may reduce drag experienced by a number of the receiver aircraft while queuing to be refuelled. The communication links between the tanker and the receiver aircraft may be established using a time division multiple access (TDMA) process. Communication links (e.g. 60GHz links) may also be established between the receiver aircraft, which communication links may facilitate colocation of those aircraft. In the above embodiments, a UAV is refuelled by a manned tanker aircraft. However, in other embodiments the aircraft being refuelled may be a manned aircraft. In such embodiments, the RF positioning system may be used as a guide by a pilot of an aircraft to facilitate docking of that aircraft with the refuelling drogue of the tanker. In some embodiments, the tanker aircraft is an unmanned aircraft.

In the above embodiments, common transceivers are used by the positioning system (i.e. the system for positioning the UAV to attach to the drogue) and the mission system (i.e. the system for transferring mission data between the UAV and the tanker). However, in other embodiments, the transceivers of the positioning system may be separate to, and may operate independently from, those of the mission system.

In the above embodiments, aircraft fuel is transferred from the tanker to the UAV. However, in other embodiments, a different resource is transferred from the tanker to the UAV, for example, water or coolant. In some embodiments, aircraft fuel or another different resource is transferred from the UAV to the tanker. ln the above embodiments, the refuelling system of the tanker includes an under-wing refuelling pod, a hose, and a drogue. However, in other embodiments, the tanker includes a different type of refuelling system. For example, the tanker may include a Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRU), or an Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS). Similarly, in some embodiments, the UAV includes a different type of refuelling system to that described above with reference to Figures 1 to 3. In some embodiments, the tanker may comprise multiple refuelling systems such that multiple receiver aircraft may be refuelled from the tanker simultaneously. In the above embodiments, the RF positioning system is used to perform a re-fuelling process. However, in other embodiments the RF positioning system is used to perform a different type of operation for physically coupling together two or more different aircraft. In some embodiments, the positioning system is used to attach together two or more aircraft, whereas in other embodiments, the aircraft are physically coupled in a different way (e.g. touching, but not attached). For example, a docking operation in which a smaller aircraft (e.g. a relatively small UAV) lands in or on a larger transport aircraft may be implemented using the positioning system.

In the above embodiments, the aircraft are positioned relative to one another by sending RF signals between those aircraft. In other words, the positioning system implemented in the above embodiments is an RF positioning system. However, in other embodiments a different type of positioning system may be used. For example, in some embodiments an optical positioning system in which optical signals are sent between the aircraft is used. In the above embodiments, the position and orientation of an aircraft relative to a different aircraft is determined using the time delay between transmitting a signal and receiving a corresponding response signal. However, in other embodiments, one or more other parameters instead of or in addition to the aforementioned time delay may be used. In the above embodiments, a signal sent from the fourth transceiver is received by the first, second, and third transceivers, and response signals are transmitted in return. However, in other embodiments, response signals are generated in a different way, for example, the signal transmitted from the UAV may be reflected by reflectors on-board the tanker. In some embodiments, a signal transmitted from one aircraft to another may include a time-stamp specifying a time at which that signal was transmitted and/or a time at which a signal was received by a particular transceiver. Such time-stamps may be used to compute the relative positions and/or orientations of the aircraft.

In some embodiments, no response signal is sent in response to receiving an RF signal. For example, in some embodiments a signal may be sent from the fourth transceiver on the UAV to the transceivers on the tanker. The respective "time of flights" of the signal received at the tanker transceivers (which may be determined from a time-stamp included in the transmitted signal) may then be used to calculate the position of the UAV relative to the tanker.

In the above embodiments, the determination of the position and orientation of the UAV relative to the tanker is determined by a processor on- board the UAV. However, in other embodiments, the determination of the position and/or orientation of the UAV relative to the tanker is determined in a different location instead of or in addition to on the UAV. For example, in some embodiments, the position and orientation of the UAV relative to the tanker is determined by one or more processors on-board the tanker. In some embodiments, positions and/or orientation determined on the tanker, and/or corresponding control signals for navigating the UAV relative to the tanker, may be sent from the tanker to the UAV via a communication link established between a tanker transceiver and the fourth transceiver.

In the above embodiments, a positioning signal is sent from the UAV to the tanker and, in response, response signals are sent from the tanker to the UAV. However, in other embodiments, a positioning signal is sent from the tanker to the UAV and, in response, response signals are sent from the UAV to the tanker.

In the above embodiments, the tanker comprises three positioning system transceivers (namely, the first, second, and third transceivers). Also, the UAV comprises a single positioning system transceiver (namely, the fourth transceiver). However, in other embodiments, the tanker comprises a different number of positioning system transceivers, for example, more than three.

Preferably, multiple positioning system transceivers are attached to each wing of the tanker. This tends to allow for the mitigation of wing flexion. Preferably, a positioning system transceiver is fitted to the refuelling drogue. This tends to allow for the mitigation of any movement of the drogue relative to the fuselage of the tanker during flight, e.g. as a result of turbulence etc. In some embodiments, a patterned ring of LEDs is disposed on the drogue (e.g. around the edge of the drogue), and a CCD detector in implemented in the UAV to determine orientation.

Preferably, one or more positioning system transceivers are attached to a tail portion of the tanker. For example, a respective positioning system transceiver may be placed at or proximate to the tip of each horizontal stabiliser of the tanker empennage. In some embodiments, a positioning system transceiver is fixed to the tip of the vertical stabiliser of the tanker empennage. The use of such a vertical stabiliser positioning system transceiver tends to provide improved z-axis positioning of the system.

Also, in other embodiments, the UAV comprises a different number of positioning system transceivers, for example, more than one. Preferably, the UAV comprises multiple positioning system transceiver located at respective extremities of the UAV such that the spacing between the positioning system transceivers on the UAV is substantially maximised.

Preferably, at least one aircraft comprises at least three positioning system transceivers. Use of an increased number of positioning system transceivers advantageously tends to increase accuracy, and make the system robust to transceiver failure and loss of line-of-sight between two different position system transceivers.

In the above embodiments, the transceivers have properties and attributes described in more detail earlier above with reference to Figure 1 . However, in other embodiments, one or more of the transceivers is a different type of transceiver that may have different operational properties and characteristics to those described above. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers has a different pulse bandwidth. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers has a different centre frequency. Preferably, the transceivers operate within the frequency band of 50GHz to 70GHz. More preferably, the transceivers operate within the frequency band of 57GHz to 66GHz, and more preferably within the frequency band of 60GHz to 61 GHz. Oxygen absorption of the RF signals tend to peak within this range of frequencies, for example at 60.5GHz. Thus fuel ignition tends to be reduced and the communication tends to be advantageously short-range and covert. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers may include a 60GHz antenna comprising 52 elements in a 15mm by 15mm array.

In the above embodiments, the positions of the transceivers on-board the aircraft are as described in more detail above with reference to Figure 1 . However, in other embodiments, one or more of the transceivers has a different location on an aircraft to that described above.

In some embodiments, a tanker transceiver is located in or on the refuelling system of the tanker, e.g. on the hose or the drogue. Preferably, a transceiver is located at or proximate to the drogue. This location for a tanker transceiver tends to provide that the distance between that transceiver and the UAV is reduced or minimised so as to facilitate data transfer, e.g. during refuelling. Also this location for a tanker transceiver tends to provide that optimum antenna orientation during operation is achieved. Also this location for a tanker transceiver tends to provide, when that tanker transceiver is not in use, e.g. when the hose and drogue are reeled in to the HDU, the radar cross section (RCS) of that tanker transceiver is reduced or minimised.

In some embodiments the fourth transceiver is located in or on the refuelling system of the UAV, e.g. on the probe. Preferably, the fourth transceiver is located at or proximate to the probe. This location for the fourth transceiver tends to provide that the distance between the fourth transceiver and the tanker is reduced or minimised so as to facilitate data transfer, e.g. during refuelling. This tends to allow for transmit power to be reduced. Also this location for the fourth transceiver tends to provide that optimum antenna orientation during operation is achieved. Also this location for the fourth transceiver tends to provide, when the fourth transceiver is not in use, e.g. when the probe is retracted or enclosed in the body of the UAV, the radar cross section (RCS) of the fourth transceiver is reduced or minimised. Thus, the above described system and method is particularly useful when the UAV is a low-observable UAV.

In the above embodiments, the positioning system transceivers have fixed beam width of approximately 90° and the mission system transceivers have a beam width of approximately 15° that can be scanned +/- 60° in both azimuth and elevation. Also, the beams of the first, second, and third transceivers are directed behind the tanker along the longitudinal axis of the tanker. Also, the beam of the fourth transceiver is directed in front of the UAV along the longitudinal axis of the UAV. However, in other embodiments, one or more of the transceivers may have a different beam width, for example a beam width of 90° or 180°, or a beam width of less than or equal to 60°. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers is an unsteered beam transceiver. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers is a steered beam transceiver. Advantageously, steered beam transceivers tend to provide reduced transmission power as they can be directed as required. In some embodiments, one or more of the transceivers is an omnidirectional transceiver, for example a steered beam transceiver that may operate in an omnidirectional mode. Thus, for example, a transceiver may switch between operating in an omnidirectional mode in which it may act as a positional system transceiver, and a steered-beam mode in which it may act as a mission system transceiver.

In the above embodiments, the vehicles with which the system and method are implemented are aircraft. However, in other embodiments, one or more of the vehicles is a different type of entity, for example, a different type of vehicle, e.g. a land-based vehicle or a water-based vehicle. In the above embodiments, the system includes a separate mission system data link which is in addition to and independent from the communications links of the positioning system. However, in embodiments, the separate mission system communication link is omitted.