This once-small military contractor has grown exponentially in recent years, with an emphasis on uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS).
If 1880s-novelist Horatio Alger, Jr., were alive today, he might write a story about SURVICE Engineering. Alger believed anyone could make it in America with hard work, determination and vision, no matter how difficult the early years were.
SURVICE (pronounced like “Service”) began in 1981 in the basement of Jim and Nancy Foulk’s modest Bel Air, Maryland, home. An aircraft vulnerability analyst for the US government and private industry, Foulk’s business plan, as its name implies, was to provide survivability services and products for the military.
By 1983, the company employed Jim, Nancy and Dave Fansler, a helicopter vulnerability expert and airframe designer, and Jim’s son, Jeff, the current CEO.
Today, the company employs nearly 400 staff working in various US locations, including Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and its headquarters in Belcamp, Maryland.
As noted last issue (“Moog: Growing with New Strengths,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2023), SURVICE was awarded an $8.4M contract in April to manufacture and deliver 21 TRV-150C Tactical Resupply Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TRUAS) to enter service with the Marine Corps Combat Logistics Battalions this fall. The contract is for up to 189 aircraft and worth $81M if fully funded.
The TRV-150 drone is able to carry 150 lb (68 kg) of cargo. The contract includes a year’s worth of systems engineering services to support the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems program office, PMA-263.
SURVICE is focusing on the small-to-medium class short/vertical takeoff and landing (STOL/VTOL) UAS and electric VTOL (eVTOL) sectors.
“We see tremendous opportunity in continuing to cultivate and fill the expanding use case needs of this middle ground,” said SURVICE President and COO Greg Thompson. “Leveraging the successes to date, such as our eVTOL partnership with Malloy Aeronautics with the TRV-150 and introducing larger TRV variants, we plan to grow the medium niche we have successfully carved out.”
TRUAS program partner Malloy Aeronautics, which specializes in eVTOL technology, is providing the base T-150 aircraft. SURVICE upgrades the systems to meet US Department of Defense (DoD) and the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) requirements. This includes tactically encrypted communications, transponders, drop mechanisms and an Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) based ground control system.
Mark Butkiewicz, VP of Applied Engineering and Manager of SURVICE Engineering’s Applied Technology Operation, detailed the evolution of the TRV-150, which started with an eVTOL hover bike, which resembles a flying motorcycle (see the sidebar, “Humble Beginnings”).
“The TRV-150 is the Goldilocks of the TRV variants for the logistical resupply use case,” he said. “The original hover bike was a little too big; the TRV-50 and TRV-80 were a little too small; but the TRV-150 turned out to be just right.”
Several hover bikes have been flown over the years: the Vertical Flight Society’s World eVTOL Aircraft Directory (www.eVTOL.news/aircraft) lists more than 100 designs for hover bikes and personal flying devices, but none advanced to production.
In 2015, Malloy Aeronautics announced a collaboration with SURVICE to build a hover bike for the US DoD. SURVICE and Malloy wanted to supply larger drones that could carry warfighters in and out of war zones safely. “Ten years ago, that goal was a leap too far,” said Butkiewicz. “The priority then was in finding ways to better move supplies,” he added.
At present, the TRV-150 is designed to fly in military airspace only.
SURVICE is involved in other noteworthy UAS programs.
The Eagle electric VTOL UAS is a testbed developed specifically to aid in testing sensors and technology for the TRV platform. As an “NDAA-compliant” (i.e., without Chinese components) small UAS, the Eagle is considered a practical simulator that helps streamline the company’s research and development (R&D) activities.
The Grazer UAS, being developed for the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), is another SURVICE drone program. The high-speed, short-range drone is outfitted with multiple cameras and an onboard graphical processing unit (GPU), designed to support a range of tactical uses. The Grazer A will have 22 minutes of flight time, uses real-time kinematic positioning (RTK) to increase accuracy of its omnidirectional GPS and has a mesh communications networking capability.
The Grazer A is designed for academic use, while another model, the Grazer X, is for the military. For Grazer-A, “we are working with ARL to develop an open architecture so academics can use the platform for their own R&D,” said Butkiewicz. SURVICE has also been busy on other projects. The company is partnering with UK-based Parajet, the world’s largest paramotor (a powered paraglider) company, on the Paramotor Autonomous Load Microlight Aircraft (PALOMA) UAS program. The uncrewed STOL aircraft requires a short, flat surface to achieve flight.
“The current P55 version is a small electric testbed, but future scaled-up paramotor variants will likely be gas powered to achieve better range,” said Clark Dutterer, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Business Development at SURVICE. “What we’re doing that is innovative, is bringing the same autonomy technology we’re using on the TRV-150 for resupply to a powered paramotor system, which has never been done before.”
Simon Walker, managing director of Parajet, explained the company’s partnership with SURVICE. “In the defense market, the Paramotor is a new capability getting traction, both manned and unmanned,” said Walker. “We also are working with SURVICE on larger-scale autonomous airframes that promise larger payloads, over longer distances and lower cost.”
The current autonomous P55 platform is being tested at SURVICE’s Maryland facilities. The aircraft, which can be set up in minutes, has an all-up weight of 55 lb (25 kg) and can drop a 15-lb (6.8-kg) payload from its belly.
Parajet provides the complete aircraft, powerplant, parafoil wing, along with the autopilot/flight controller. SURVICE’s Common Control Module (CCM), the same system found on the multirotor eVTOL TRV-150, is the brain of the aircraft.
The flight controller interfaces with the CCM, linking it into their ecosystem, which provides secure communications, ranging (lidar) systems, vision systems, mesh network and other systems. The CCM is being integrated onto the PALOMA program’s P55.
The SURVICE/Parajet collaboration grew from a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, exploring tactical use cases of paramotors. Later, SURVICE provided Parajet funding to develop a new uncrewed platform, which became the P55.
“We provide the automation avionics to integrate on to their airframe, which allows their aircraft to fly autonomously, as well as other tactical capabilities,” said Robert “Wink” Yelverton, senior scientist at SURVICE’s Applied Technology Operation. “Our CCM is a platform agnostic add-on technology that can perform multiple tasks.”
He added: “Because the CCM is fully portable across a family of ground/air platforms, the very same CCM on our TRVs is the same as what we have integrated on the P55.”
Walker and others Vertiflite spoke with believe UAS of varying size can fill numerous military roles. “The real opportunity is to scale up these type of aircraft,” said Walker. “In the next two or three years, we foresee vehicles that can carry hundreds of pounds for hundreds of miles.”
Parajet is part of the Gilo Industries Group, which develops innovative technologies for the enterprise, aerospace, defense and recreational markets worldwide. Parajet’s sister company, Rotron Power, provides the powerplant for the Leonardo AWHero, a rotary-wing UAS designed for various civil and military missions.
Elsewhere, SURVICE is also engaged.
SURVICE is a small business contractor on the $46B, five-year Eglin Wide Agile Acquisition Contract (EWAAC) vehicle to support the US Air Force Materiel Command and Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
The multiple-award, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract has a broad scope that includes digital acquisitions, open system architecture, agile processes and enterprise analytics, “as they apply to armament systems, which could include Air Launched Effects (ALE) or Loitering Munitions,” according to SURVICE.
SURVICE has expertise in other areas. The company has 40 years of experience with composite materials, their fabrication techniques, and is able to integrate survivability characteristics directly into the materials and resultant structures.
Recent programs include the Multifunctional UAS, Lightweight Low-Cost Multifunctional Composite for Structure (LLCMCW), and, with the University of Maryland, the UMD-ARL Alliance for Additive Manufacturing Science, among others.
Vertiflite circled back to SURVICE President and COO Thompson for some closing commentary on military use of UAS: “Whether on the front lines of the battlefield or behind the lines there are new use cases being explored almost every day,” said Thompson. “Our expectations are the autonomous eVTOL platforms will see the most explosive growth, with missions including cargo/resupply, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), psychological operations (PSYOPS), security… as well as other payload uses.”
Lower maintenance and logistics costs, ease of use for operators, and the reduced risk to pilots are further reasons for the increased use of UAS. Summed Thompson: “As autonomy capabilities become more tested and reliable, we believe swarming applications will also become more of an operational reality, offering increased capability with less operator assistance needed to safely operate many UAS.”
About the Author
Robert W. Moorman is a freelance writer specializing in various facets of the fixed-wing and rotary-wing air transportation business. With more than 30 years of experience, his writing clients include several of the leading aviation magazines targeting the civil and military markets.
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