Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being tasked to complete an increasingly diverse set of missions. These can include flying over large bodies of water to perform operations such as maritime surveillance.
Depending on the UAV’s size and its payload, an unplanned water landing, or ditching, can cause damage costing thousands or millions of dollars and even result in the loss of the entire system. For example, impact with water at speed generates large transient pressure loads on the air frame, and the natural properties of the water (dynamic buoyancy and compressibility) may cause the UAV to tumble. Either eventuality can cause airframe failure and break-up. Understanding how to mitigate such scenarios is therefore an important design consideration for UAVs.
However, performing flight tests of a water-landing maneuver for a new UAV design is not practical because of the time and cost involved to build prototypes, arrange airspace clearance, extensively instrument the test aircraft, and understand and replicate the sea state and environment in which the impact occurred.
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