System Components

Individual components and system architecture


AVEM includes several subcomponents that work together to provide autonomous operation. This section describes the individual subcomponents and how they interoperate.
AVEM mounted on a truck and ready to fly
AVEM subcomponents include the aircraft, ground segment, operator control unit, tether, and payloads. The system is intended to quickly mount onto vehicles and be operated on the move to provide an elevated sensor platform at the point of need.
AVEM Concept of Operations
AVEM System Architecture


AVEM employs a modified version of the Lockheed Martin Indago3 aircraft. This aircraft is a rugged, reliable system that is trusted by users around the world. It features:
  • Extensive heritage from defense and industrial users
  • Low acoustic signature
  • Modular payload interface
  • Low power draw
  • Weather tolerance
The aircraft has been modified for optimal tethered performance. Modifications include integration of Planck's ACE system, an aircraft tether module, updated landing gear for securing on the DECK, and revised battery to provided emergency backup power. AVEM maintains Indago payload compatibility.


Planck's autonomous control engine (ACE) is integrated into the aircraft to provide a complete navigation and control solution. ACE enables the aircraft to fly from moving platforms with or without GPS. For AVEM, it is coupled with a tether management system to maximize the operational envelope of the system. ACE ensures the aircraft can fly and land safely, even if there is a tether failure, as well as in RF-contested or GPS-jammed environments.

Aircraft Tether Module

A tethered UAS has unique power, data, and control needs. The aircraft tether module (ATM) is a module mounted onto the bottom of the aircraft and provides the interface for both power and data. The ATM also helps managed the tether so that it does not get entangled with the payload or impart unnecessary forces on the aircraft. The ATM provides access to the payload interface on the aircraft. Finally, the ATM is important for thermal management of the power system.
AVEM air segment, including aircraft, ATM, payload, and ACE

DECK Ground Segment

The DECK is the ground segment unit that serves several functions:
  • Landing pad for the aircraft
  • Automatic securing device for the aircraft when not in flight
  • Integrated tether management system
  • Data interface between both aircraft and ground systems
  • Power interface and power conditioning for all other subcomponents
  • Mechanical interface to mount onto ground vehicles using standard mounting hardware and minimal tools
  • Backup battery power for critical subsystems
  • Infrared backlight for operating in low light conditions (night and/or fog)
  • System safety, including E-stop and other electrical protection features.

Operator Control Unit

The operator control unit (OCU) is the primary flight control input system for AVEM. It includes simple push-button functions for:
  • Arming the aircraft
  • Launching the aircraft
  • Changing altitude
  • Landing the aircraft
The OCU also includes status indicator lights and sunlight readable displays for altitude readings and menu displays.
Operator Control Unit
The OCU is a separate unit that can be handheld or easily mounted to a dashboard, roll cage, or other surface for mobile operations. The OCU connects to the DECK via a wired interface to maximize reliability and minimize EMI susceptibility.
OCU on a vehicle dashboard


The tether is a thin, lightweight cable that attaches to the ATM on the aircraft and the DECK on the ground side. The tether provides all power to the aircraft for persistent flight. The tether also includes a fiber optic cable for a high bandwidth data path between the aircraft and the ground. The tether tension is actively managed by the DECK in coordination with the ACE system, which is critically important in mobile operations where the tether can not slack and catch on objects or the ground.
The tether cable is strong enough to constrain the aircraft during takeoff and and landing maneuvers. It includes an abrasion and tear-resistant sheath.


AVEM is designed to support a wide range of payloads. This is accomplished by leveraging the standardized Lockheed Martin payload interface as well as decoupling payload operation and control from flight control, which maximizes payload modularity. Payloads and payload ground control equipment are hot-swappable without tools to allow for quick exchange of different payloads in the field. In addition, AVEM's tether provides high power and high speed data communication between the ground and payload interface, extending what is typically possible with sUAS payloads.
AVEM natively supports optical and infrared payload sensor packages from Lockheed Martin. These include a separate computer unit for payload command and control, but they are not required for aircraft operation. The payload interface includes power and Ethernet to support additional third-party payloads and custom packages. Payload data can be accessed from Ethernet ports on the DECK.
Refer to the Payloads section for additional information on sensor packages and the modular payload interface.
ION30X stabilized optical payload is natively compatible with AVEM


An external power source is required for AVEM to operate. Most AVEM users operate a small generator. Users who do not require mobility can use shore or wall power. AVEM will accept any source that meets the power requirements. As a failsafe feature, both the aircraft and the DECK include backup batteries to safely land the aircraft in case of a power loss.

Data / Computers

All data interfaces are Ethernet, accessible from the DECK. No RF data interfaces are available for security and reliability reasons. No dedicated computers are required to operate AVEM. Some payloads may require an external computer or tablet to function.
AVEM can be configured to support networked command and control for remote operation or integration into a vehicle's computer system. Contact Planck to discuss these options.