Warplanes: Luna Loses Its Way


June 15, 2015: Recently Germany grounded its 30 Luna UAVs because some of them were unable to receive GPS signals during a training exercise. Luna UAVs lost the GPS signal six times between May 18th and 21st. Each time the Luna software successfully landed the UAV as automatically as they were supposed to when GPS signal is lost. This emergency system uses a location programmed in before the Luna takes off. Such backup systems are common in UAVs to provide an alternative when normal navigation methods fail. The backup system only has to be able to get a Luna back to where it took off.

Luna is an all-weather, easy to operate unmanned air vehicle (UAV) system for real-time surveillance, reconnaissance and target location. Luna is a 40 kg (88 pound) UAV with a 4.17 meter (13.5 foot) wingspan. It takes off via a mechanical catapult and lands via a large portable net system or parachute. Cruise speed is 70 kilometers an hour and endurance is up to eight hours. Max altitude is 5,000 meters (16,000 feet). Luna carries a day/night (infrared) vidcam that can transmit live video back to the operator, who can be up to 150 kilometers away. Navigation is via GPS using preprogrammed waypoints. The operator can change the waypoints while Luna is in the air. Otherwise the Luna is flown via automatic pilot. This means operators can be trained after about a hundred hours of instruction and practice. 

The Luna system entered service in 2000 and the German Army eventually bought 80 of them. So far the army has lost fifty Lunas, which is not unusual for a small UAV used a lot in rough terrain and bad weather. Lunas were used successfully in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Macedonia. All three countries are mountainous with often difficult (for small UAVs) weather (high winds, overcast) and the Lunas performed well, with relatively few mechanical or electronic problems. There had never been so many GPS reception problems like this before in such a short time.

Luna has been popular with military and civilian users. This is apparently the first serious problem with the GPS receiver and Germany will keep its Lunas on the ground until the problem is located and fixed. There is some urgency in this as Lunas are used by German troops sent to the new NATO Rapid Response force, which may be needed in East Europe this year because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. -- Przemys&&22;aw Juraszek



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